You better watch out for those women who are single, virgin, pregnant, single moms, and teenage girls.

God has revealed a new, sweet word this morning.

It concerns Mary.

She’s pretty important to the Christmas story. But I’ve realized that she was more than just a good example of a Christian girl. There’s more to the story.

You see, Mary was the first preacher when Jesus came to earth.

Yes, you heard that right, preacher.

She was chosen to carry the literal Word, and to speak the Word from a place of being filled with God. In every literal and spiritual sense.

This was no accident.

She was chosen to bring the word. To preach it from her womb and from her mouth. And it was a weighty word for not just her day, but for the rest of the days of the followers of Jesus.

Whew, you can be sure that it defied the religious and social construct of that day. Woman couldn’t even sit in the same sections in the churches and religious establishments. There were no Sunday Schools they could teach, no small groups for single women, no legal rights for protection, and no recognition of their voices.

Women were best to be silent and not heard from.

But God — well, he had other plans. And it’s not like it was a new plan. This was his intention from the beginning. There is no male and female before God. We are one and equal in his sight.

But nevertheless, at the time of Mary, her bringing a word and singing the sermon of Magnificat was a defiance to what was proper and acceptable. If it were up to the common order of the day, it should not have made its way into historical canonization and literature.

And it defies our expectations as well.

Because God works from his own order and purpose and he will dethrone the pride of man to bring Himself into the world.

He didn’t come into the world entrusted on the word of a popular, well-traveled, financially supported, experienced Christian male leader who had several books to his name and was featured on many podcasts.

No, no, no. She is not one of those people that we expect to hear a speaker introduction about at a large conference.

“And now I’d like to introduce Mary of Nazareth. She has quite the list of qualifications. She’s never been to school. She doesn’t know how to read or write. She’s single and a virgin, but recently has become pregnant before her marriage. And lastly, she’s at the prime age of 16. Get ready to hear a great word from the Lord!”

Yeah, not likely.

She fell into so many categories that we expect not to hear from:




Single mother.

Teenage girl.

Funny how we view those groups of women as ones to be helped. We create social programs for them. We help them out of our views that they are weak and powerless. And to some extent, that may be true. These groups can be marginalized and vulnerable due to the abuse of the powerful.

But I’m beginning to understand that those are the people God targets for bringing life-changing truths.

Wouldn’t it take quite the humility of you and me and our church leadership to let the word be brought to us by a single, virgin, pregnant, teenage girl? God literally entrusted THE MOST IMPORTANT MESSAGE to be brought into this world by this woman. Our faith rests upon her faithfulness to do the work she was called to do.

What were the results of her obedience to carry the Word? To name a few:

Jesus being born and saving the world.

The New Testament scriptures.

The starting point of the world calendar.

The Apostles and authors of the New Testament believed her and lifted her up and didn’t leave her out of the story of Jesus. And this was during a time in the world where a woman’s word could not be used as witness in a legal court. She had no legal rights. But these men believed otherwise, for good reason.

Here we go.

To those who are single, or a virgin, or pregnant, or a single mom, or a teenage girl, if God gives you a word to carry and to preach, do it. And do it with authority because you are favored of God. You are not defined by a social, religious construct. Your only expectation is from God.

I get it— it may make sense to even you that God would speak this word through the main pastor or a well-spoken male in your life who has had more experience in leadership. But God obviously doesn’t always work through logical expectations, does he?

To those who are close to a woman who is single, a virgin, pregnant, single mother, or teenage girl, be ready and expectant to hear a word of exhortation. Be willing to be led by her. She may be carrying a word that could literally change your world.

And lastly, to our male Christian leaders, pastors, and teachers, please listen to women who may be single, virgins, pregnant, single moms, or teenagers. If they have a word from the Lord, give them a platform and space to share that. It may feel unusual to have a pregnant woman teaching, or a single woman preaching, or single mom in leadership. But if it didn’t bother God to let Mary bring the word, why does it bother you?

This Christmas, I’m thankful for Mary.

My heart is so glad right now because if God used her to bring a message into the world of hope and freedom and truth at a time when it was heretical to believe a woman and advocacy for gender equality was unheard of, then he certainly can use me.

And you.

And all the women around us who are single, virgins, pregnant, single moms, and teenage girls.

I spend my time watching sexual violence. And other thoughts about #MeToo, Game of Thrones, and Harvey Weinstein.

My doorbell rang.

This was a bit odd, seeing that it was Thanksgiving evening, and I had an expected night alone in my town house. I wasn’t able to travel to see family that year.

I walked to the door, cautiously opening it, only to find my friend Latonya standing there. “Hey! Latonya, nice to see you!”

See looked slightly uncomfortable. “Hey Angela,” she said, forced cheerfully. “Can I come in?”

“Oh, for sure, absolutely, come on in.” I walked her to the living room, feeling like something was a bit off.

But I didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable, so I tried to be welcoming. You see, I hadn’t see her in months, probably 7-8. We met on a Salvation Army outreach team to the homeless in downtown Greenville. She was strong, a powerful woman, and always ready to laugh. So I had missed seeing her and missed our friendship that had bonded.

We sat on the couch and she tried to chat, asking me about my Thanksgiving Day. We made casual talk.

In the bright light of the living room, that’s when I noticed the wounds.

Knife marks, specifically.

Pretty quickly she broke down and told me everything that was happening, where she had disappeared to the last several months.

She told me of the boyfriend, the good guy, the community Christian leader.

Then the isolation, the verbal abuse, the lying, the control.

And then the beatings with whatever object was most convenient: hangers, belts, fists.

The story kept coming, as if someone had released a bottled-up dam.

Controlling her to get whatever he wanted, abusing her at the slightest mistake, especially invisible rules that he made. Punishing including burning her skin with cigarettes, pouring scalding hot water on her, and endless punching.

Then she told me of the sexual abuse, the violence, the rape. And her doing whatever she could to appease him or “consent” so that he wouldn’t additionally hurt her.

She only knew her name as “bitch.” And it was hell living with him, though the control and manipulation made it seemingly impossible to leave.

But this time — this was the first time he had used the knife on her.

And she finally escaped. And only because she truly thought she would be killed. She was able to make a phone call to a friend who was able to pick her up and bring her to my house, as I was the only person she could think of to go to.

I sat in shock, the weight of the story depressing my entire being, as I gazed at wounds and bruising on a human being that I have never seen before in person.

Finally, after a long while of listening, watching, processing, I looked at her and said,

“Wow, that was such a great storyline.”

I was 25 that Thanksgiving. Since then I walked into, and perhaps even stumbled upon, the anti-sex trafficking movement. 5 years ago there wasn’t as much national buzz around human trafficking. In fact, I didn’t even know what that term meant. All I knew was that I wanted to support women in marginalized, risky situations.

Latonya (not her real name) was the first of 4 women that I have hosted in my home who have been able to escape terrible situations.

And the common factor? Sexual exploitation.

All of them in some shape or form had experienced sexual assault, discrimination, abuse, or violence. I wasn’t a social worker, so it wasn’t my job to talk about that in depth. But they often told me stories about their experiences, or I heard them due to proximity. I’ve been there in the hospital when the police came to write a report for the violence committed against them and had to hear all the nuanced details.

And it was heavy. It was confusing. It was painful.

As you try to process something like that with someone near you, it literally breaks your mind. And often what happens is what happened pretty quickly once Latonya came to live with me.

Her trauma became my trauma. Her symptoms became my symptoms.

And this is what we call vicarious trauma.

I was pretty alone during this period of my life and didn’t have much community, so the isolation made it that much worse. Plus, I didn’t know how to process it, or that I needed to process it. Good grief, I didn’t even know what the term trauma meant.

Since that time, I’ve attended many, many workshops and conferences on the subject of trafficking and sexual exploitation of adults and children. And at every single one the topic comes up loud and clear for all to glean:

You must take care of yourself and protect your mind and soul if you are in close proximity to disturbing or violent acts. 

Because if your mind, soul and body are not cared for, what’s to protect you from imploding?

Or worse yet, numbness?

Watching sexual violence in my free time

I spend a good amount of my free time watching sexual violence and human trafficking documentaries. Reading about it. Studying it. Being educated on it.

I know, I know, not exactly what your average young adult does in her free Friday evenings.

I do it because it makes me better informed to care for and understand someone who’s had to live in that world.

But sometimes it re-triggers something unhealthy in my mind or from my past — it could be a tone of voice, or an action, or an intention. Once that happens, the good of what my “education” is supposed to accomplish is outweighed by the bad effects. Because now my mind is overcome by the second-hand experience and it controls me, not I controlling it.

I’m super sensitive, and I’ll readily admit that now. In fact, I’m glad I’m sensitive and have grown less “strong”. I know what my body is telling me, and I’m aware of something being “too much” or pushing me to the point of vicarious trauma. The non-profit I volunteer with now requires Care Coaches for their volunteers due to the type of outreach we do. I often text my own mentor and friend when something triggers me into an unhealthy place.

So with this lifestyle, I’ve had to work hard to be aware of myself, my environment, and what’s happening in and around me. When is it crossing the line? Am I looking at something to learn or help, or is it in order to obtain? Is it love or is it lust? Is it fear or is it freedom?

So this is my life. Not for everyone, I’m sure! But I hope I also have a relatively normal life, one where Netflix binges happen at times and pop culture isn’t totally out in left field.

But what I haven’t been able to resolve is this conflicting tension I get when I watch TV shows and movies with violence, especially sexual violence.

Why does it make me feel torn? Why do I feel that my authenticity is in question?

I never really had a good answer.

Until last week. That’s when I realized I had to draw a line in the sand.

As I’m sure you can guess by now, after my friend shared her traumatic story of severe violence as I described above, I did not respond, “Wow, that was such a great storyline.”

Because that’s not what you do when you witness violence.

What’s the big deal about shows with sexual violence?

I was at a friend’s house last week, and somehow the topic came around to shows like This Is Us and The Handmaid’s Tale. I made a comment that I had only seen a few episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale, and I was uneasy about my conclusion about it. That’s when my friend asked for my opinion, as someone who works with survivors of sexual exploitation, and what I thought about shows like Handmaid’s Tale and Law and Order: SVU.

I hesitated, because I didn’t quite have words to phrase it.

“I mean, I know what they’re trying to say, and trying to make a point about. It’s just that it’s….it’s….”

Then it dawned on me.

“It’s entertainment.”

Entertainment vs. Education

When I watch a documentary showing the story of a 12 year old Nepalese girl who was trafficked and sold for sex in a brothel across the border in India, I was not entertained. That was not the purpose of the film makers.

When I watched YouTube documentaries about the sex trade of minors and vulnerable women in Mombasa, I was not hoping to be entertained. That was not the purpose of my research.

After watching these shows or documentaries, I often need some sort of release or break. It’s just so heavy, heartbreaking, and wretched.

Here’s the problem: those scenes I watched in those YouTube videos, I recognized that those were the same in many of these other TV shows or movies. But something was different, something was off.

That’s when I realized that film makers and producers use sexual violence, often against women, as a form of entertainment.

Which is just another form of exploitation.

It’s the job of a film maker to tell the truth of the story. And most mainstream popular TV shows and movies are not telling you the truth of the story when it comes to sexual violence.

It shows enough to make you concede, “Well, that wasn’t right of that character to do that,” but it leaves out the weight of grossness of the act. In fact, it often makes you more interested, more desiring, and more aroused.

“But the show is showing what really did happen back in those days!”

Most arguments I’ve read in support of Game of Thrones is that this kind of violence and sexual violence really did happen and that was the norm of that time period.

That could be completely true.

But . . . actually, it’s not.

The film makers are telling a false story, one that you cannot see, one that is hidden and disguised. If they really did represent the heinousness of sexual violence, they would have problems finding viewers. It’s reality is overtly disturbing, and those of us that see it in the real world and online get therapy and healing care for ourselves. And we’re just the observers. We haven’t even discussed the injury done to the ones perpetrated against in this practice.

In the few scenes I’ve seen from Game of Thrones and The Handmaid’s Tale that depict actual sexually violent acts, they are not true narratives, they misrepresent the victim, and they are intended to cause arousal.

“But it’s such a good storyline!”

As illustrated in the opening story, it doesn’t matter how riveting a story is. If there is violence and crime against humanity that we watch with our own eyes, our reactions are typically, “Wow, that’s terrible,” and we instinctively move away, uncomfortably.

But film makers conveniently glide over the terribleness. They make violence more palatable, more reasonable, or desirable.

Which leads us to believe that we really aren’t all that bothered by this violence, which leads me to the next point…

“But this stuff doesn’t bother me. I can watch it and be totally fine.”

This argument concerns me the most. Because it’s basically admitting,

“I’m numb to this.”

You know who else we all now know is numb to sexual violence?

Harvey Weinstein.

Now, of course, I’m not saying that you’re Harvey. But perpetrators like him weren’t born; they were made. If you read his language and how he spoke to the women he used, it was clear this didn’t bother him. And not bothering gave him plenty of license.

For us, not being bothered does not equate to Super Man or Woman status, that only the strongest of us can handle the really bad stuff.

No, it actually means that you’ve been exposed for so long that the abnormality has become normality, and your brain is not reacting as it should due to this type of conditioning.

And I think this one scares me the most because I believe we all fall into this category in one stage or another. It’s normal in our culture. Which is why you are finding so many “Me too” friends coming out on social media.

Let me ask you: if one of those friends sat down and told you her story of harassment or assault, would you be totally fine with it? Would it not bother you at all?

Shows that depict sexual violence with intention to cause arousal are exploitative.

And when we watch, we participate in the exploitation.

This is where we draw a line in the sand:

If a scene of sexual violence is meant to cause arousal in the viewer, then it is abusive.

Both to all women in our culture, and to yourself.

What these shows teach us is that, yes, sexual violence is kinda bad . . . but more than that it sure is interesting, and we’d like to watch more.

Think about that. Really think about that.

If we’re so used to watching both physical and sexual violence in a place of pleasure and half-truths, then what will we do when we are confronted with it in real life? Will we think it’s “interesting?” Will we want to see more? Will we find it arousing?

Will we say to the victim sharing their experience, “Wow, that was such a great storyline“?

No. We don’t say those things in response to stories that include gross acts of dehumanization.

I put responsibility of lie-telling on the film makers, and the responsibility of participation on us.

Consider this: if a scene of sexual violence causes you to be aroused, then you need help.

It’s not because you’re bad. It’s because you’re broken.

And join the crowd.

I recently read the New Yorker article detailing the stories of the women who have come forward sharing their sexual abusive encounters with Harvey Weinstein over the past decades.

It was a long article. The stories had jarring details. It’s a trigger warning for any female who has experience some form of sexual assault, which I’m pretty sure after seeing the many “Me too” posts that it includes all of us women.

When I finished I felt my head was heavy and slightly spinning. It was almost exhausting. Part of me wanted to just lay there and process what I just heard. But because I’m more in tune to my mental and physical state now, I knew I needed a release. I had just spent a weekend in trauma-informed training, so the teaching was fresh in my memory.

So what did I do? I watched one of the stupidest episodes of Parks and Recreation I’ve ever seen and ate 2 dark chocolate peanut butter cups.

After that brief release I felt normal, the heaviness was gone and I was able to think more clearly. Yet even still, I’ll probably talk about it with my mentor at some point, just so that I don’t soak it up into my mental state.

Because, again, reading or watching violent, abusive acts should mess up your soul.

And it takes intentionality to care for it so that those effects do not damage you or those around you.

We were not made to observe evil casually. We were not made to take pleasure in other people’s pain.

The Lost Girls of Mombasa

All of my senses became alert, suddenly.

I sat upright, peered in wonder, the type of wonder that makes you feel sick to your stomach. A sharp intake of breath, like you’ve been punched in the gut.

It was all too familiar. But not in the way one is familiar with something from experience. But more so from research, from documentaries, from second-hand experiences.

All the signs were there.

Older white male. Younger African female.

Abnormal outward affection.

Flirting minus the depth of relationship.

Male dressed average, female dressed lavishly and provocatively.

The location being international-based versus local-based.

Forgetting what client project I was currently working on, I stared at this couple across the cafe, watching his advances, her reactions. Like a train wreck, you want to look away, but you just can’t.

Then I noticed. . .

A second couple.

Then a third.

Then a fourth.

That’s when the shock hit me, making my heart freeze.

I had found myself sitting in a hub of sex buyers and prostitutes.

And I didn’t even know it. I had literally “stumbled upon” this standard European-type cafe in search of good wifi to do some work. But this international-comfortable spot seemed to also attract all tourists– including those who came to specifically take part of sex tourism in Mombasa.

You see, there’s a thing in sex tourism called the “Girlfriend Experience.” Buyers from around the world, especially from wealthy Western countries, come to tourist spots that have a supply of women and girls who are inexpensive for purchase.

Inexpensive, in that the girls and their families have been living in the cycle of poverty around that tourist city and have few options for income.

Inexpensive, in that she lives on $1 a day, so to charge even just $20 a night to cater to his sexual desires is highly profitable.

Purchase, in that he uses money to bribe consent, which, non-surprisingly, is not actually consent given that she wouldn’t ever have sex with him if he didn’t offer the money and if she didn’t desperately need it.

Purchase, in that she is no longer a living, breathing human, but is instead a usable, itemized object with a fluctuating valuation.

What I had researched before was just data and statistics. Now it was faces.

“Come to Mombasa! Not only can to enjoy the beauty of the beaches and the coast, but you can also buy yourself a girlfriend for the duration of your stay. Any age desired!”

Any age desired?

I saw adults that night in the cafe, but do they also buy girls?

You mean, little girls? Elementary age girls?


It was last year, sometime in May 2016.

I had attended a Compassion Experience event in Chicago near the west side. I had been sponsoring a 4 year old girl through Compassion for about 6 months at this time, and it seemed that this “Experience” event would allow me to see her world and understand the stories that these children have.

In the Experience you enter a series of rooms while listening to a tour on an iPod. It’s kind of a micro version of a walking tour in a museum. A child is telling you their story about life in poverty, a life marred by dependency, scarcity, and incapacity, where material and relational needs are at a loss.  Then you discover how they got into the Compassion program and how their lives have changed and developed as a result of that program.

It was fascinating and I definitely felt more connected to the work of Compassion and my own child.

Afterwards I talked with one of staff who was standing in front of wall of photographs — all children that needed to be sponsored. I knew my budget and that I probably couldn’t afford to sponsor another one at that time. But I looked a wall of girls from Kenya, and I noticed several “older” girls — girls over 12 years old. On certain cards there were notes that their home areas were at high risk of HIV and trafficking.

I knew that fact all too well. In Chicago itself the entry age of prostitution is 12 years old. Entry age. That means if you see an adult street prostitute outside, you can safely bet that she was exploited, trafficked, around the age of puberty. So I could only imagine how much worse the statistics were in developing countries.

As I left that day, those photos stuck in my mind. While biking downtown to a meeting a few days later, God brought it back to mind very clearly, and I started praying for those girls, the vulnerable ones.

Immediately after my meeting I received an email that was titled, “Sponsor an older child today,” and it had a picture of a girl from Kenya named Jane. I immediately knew she was special. In a moment of complete instinct and vulnerability, I replied to sponsor her.

I had no idea at the time, but, as you’ll find out, I’m so glad I did.

What’s going on in Mombasa?

She lives just north of Mombasa in a town called Mtwapa. I did some brief research on the area so I had some context in which to add to our letters. But I didn’t give it too much thought after that.

Except for 6 months later.

I follow a human trafficking forum where articles and research are posted from communities all over the world. I noticed that one in particular talked about Mombasa. Of course my interest was piqued, so I started reading.

And the shocking truths emerged.

“Almost a third of girls age 12 and younger in the Mombasa region were involved in prostitution.”

“Trace Kenya, a local nonprofit group that works with the United Nations to battle child trafficking, estimates there could be as many as 100,000 child sex workers in Mombasa.”

“Many come to the city in search of girls aged between 12 and 18. The industry has made Kenya one of the world’s hubs for child sex tourism.”

“Emily, a 16-year-old orphan, said she was forced into the business due to poverty and peer pressure. Her aunt encouraged her to engage in sex with white men to help pay family expenses. Emily is now infected with HIV.”

This deeply troubled me. And then I took note of Trace Kenya, and found that they were headquartered in a town north of Mombasa that they considered the main hot spot for child sex trafficking.

That town? Mtwapa. The same town Jane lived in.

My heart went to my throat. Though I research often, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. And she could easily be one of these statistics.

But it couldn’t be — that couldn’t happen to her, right? I mean, I know her name, her face, her hobbies, her favorite school subjects — she’s just a little girl, not a target for prostitution.

Yet I knew, when poverty and sex tourism collide, the most vulnerable of our communities will always lose.

Who are those?

Our children, our girls.

While visiting East Africa last month, I was able to find some time to visit Mombasa for a few days. I spent an entire day with Jane and her friends at the Compassion center in Mtwapa. Since I wanted to be centrally located, I got a hotel in Mtwapa as well. Obviously, I already knew the research before going, so I wanted to observe as much as I could, but I figured it would be from a safe distance as this wasn’t a dedicated “human trafficking research trip”.

View of Mtwapa from my hotel room

My time with Jane and her friends was about as fun and joyous as I could’ve imagined. Though they were all coming from families of poverty, they didn’t have a poverty spirit. Instead, there was a spirit of abundance and fullness and honor.

That’s how you know a poverty-alleviating organization is succeeding. When those they serve are relationally restored to understanding their identity and gifting as an individual, as a creation of God.

I visiting her home and spent time with her mother and siblings. I loved interacting with them, being welcomed into their home, meeting the community.

But, almost unwanted, the thoughts stirred in the back of my mind: “Are any of these the girls of Mtwapa part of that statistic? One of the 100,000? At nights do pimps come to recruit them to sell to nearby tourists? Are there seriously no other options?”

Too many questions, and none that I wanted to deal with as I held hands with the children as they led me singing through the dirt streets between the homes.

The “Hot Spot” Cafe

It was that very evening that I was in the cafe doing work for my clients when I noticed my disturbing surroundings. This was a nice mall in the Mtwapa/Mombasa area, and apparently one that attracted foreigners. I went there the following night as well, and the same exact scenario repeated itself. I sighed. This is “normal.”

It was quite a helpless feeling to sit on the sidelines and observe the objectification of these women, knowing very well the trauma they live through each day they are in this industry. Seriously — imagine experiencing sexual harassment in a vile form at work (which most of us women have experienced). It causes trauma and many women have to go through therapy after just one experience. It’s such a big deal that our government created laws against it to protect us.

Now imagine that’s your job. Your job is to experience sexual harassment and assault and abuse every single day. And pretend that you want to be there. Because if you didn’t you wouldn’t have any means of survival, you wouldn’t be able to feed your family, you wouldn’t be able to pay for a roof over your head.

Since I was typically in the cafe for several hours, I saw couples come and go, and would often try to catch the eyes of the women as they walked past me. I felt like the only thing I could offer was a smile, a gesture of kindness, a show of non-judgment, a look of solidarity.

But I was never able to. I recall one woman in specific, in her high heels and fancy clothes, a time that most women may feel like shining and standing out, yet for her was a walk of shame. She never looked up, only stared at the ground as she passed by. It was such an absence of joy.

Prostitution, trafficking, selling of bodies — it all steals the soul, sucks the life out, and leaves behind the shell of a person.

This is not what the Image of God was made for.

Each of us was uniquely crafted before birth with a specific purpose, gifting, calling, and destiny. And above all, we were made to love and be loved.

Anything less then that is not meant to be. Using another person, especially in an explicitly sexual way, distorts and destroys the Image of God on that person.

We were made for so much more.

And not just for the American girls like myself who got to attend private school her entire life, graduate from college, and find consistent employment. The same respect and honor is due in parallel form to girls like Jane, who may not externally have the same earthly privileges and wealth. But the Image of God is just as strong in her.

Both Image of God bearers, both deserving of honor and opportunity

There is no place to choose which women we get to use, and which ones we don’t.

We’re all equal. We’re all valuable.

Is there an answer?

Is there? That’s the question. I sat there that night really unsure of what I’m supposed to do with this new, personal experience and information.

As I’ve been mulling it over, there are a few practical suggestions I can make.

Sponsor a child in poverty

I’ve met some amazing organizations like Compassion and Christ’s Hope International. I’ve seen first hand how these models work. And you just never know how much impact that $36 a month will have, that you may literally be saving a little girl from sexual exploitation. Is there a promise that every child sponsored won’t end up falling into the snare of exploitation? No, which is why prayer and encouragement are so vital. Those consistent positive voices of advocates in their lives are often lifelines of hope to keep them on the paths of hope and purpose.

Support your local anti-trafficking organization

The awareness of this problem is much stronger now than it used to be, and most cities in America have some sort of chapter or organization that deal with human trafficking in one form or another. Just Google it and be open to serving (and learning!) however necessary. If you need any recommendations of where to start, let me know in the comments and I’ll share any contacts or connections I may have.

Learn and share and pray

As you can see, those 100,000 girls in Mtwapa may not be as high in demand if it weren’t for the sex tourism from the wealthy Westerners that visit. Guess where those men came from? Probably your country, probably America. We need to admit that we are part of the problem of little girls being exploited in Mombasa because we endorse and celebrate the sexualization of women here in America. That creates the “demand,” the need for women to fulfill sexual desires on-demand.

We have to deal with the issue of “demand,” that until our culture mindset changes and our men stop viewing certain kinds of women and girls as objects for sexual gratification (prostitution, strip clubs, pornography, rape), then the problem will never go away. It’s both a local and international issue. But although we are all apart of the problem (yes, us all), we can also be apart of the solution. That solution will not come without humility, brokenness, and weighty amounts of prayer.

Keep praying, keep learning, keep sharing, keep repenting, keep forgiving, keep honoring . . . repeat, repeat, repeat.

Compassion is a currency that must be cashed.

I’d prefer something a little more explainable.

You know, a story that aligns just right, it makes complete sense to just about every listener, and one would respond simply, “Well, that certainly sounds reasonable.”

Reasonable. Explainable. Correct.

None of those words really describe the path of my life, much less this Ride for Hope I’m doing in a week in East Africa.

You see, I’d prefer to tell you a story about how it all came together in a really clean, factual manner. And most of all, that I wouldn’t have to share my vulnerability.

The compassion. The joy. The heart break. The love.

Those words, the feelings? Ah, so very un-reason-able.

It may sound odd now looking back, but I felt so exposed about it all, I really didn’t want to talk about it. But I mean, c’mon, how can one hide the fact that you’re going to be biking 600 miles around Lake Victoria in East Africa and you have to raise $12,000 in the process?

Seems like at some point the truth had to come out.

The truth? The why?

There was a riot in my heart.

And I gave in. I let myself feel. And feel it all.

A story from Christ’s Hope International

David from Christ’s Hope was sharing at a local networking event about the work being done to support orphans affected by AIDS in sub-Sahara Africa. To be clear, not the first time I’ve heard of this kind of courageous non-profit work. But he leaned in deeper and shared a moving story that had happened recently through one of the CarePoint centers.

They needed to find a home for a young girl that had lost both of her parents. In their model, they don’t place them in orphanages, but instead put the children in relatives’ homes to support them from there.

Problem was, the only living relative of this girl was a prostitute.

A prostitute.

A word I’m familiar with. A people that I know. A term that could better be described as, “one who is used up sexually due to her need and loss.”

Her power stripped away, there is only the bait of money that keeps her in the business. There’s no consent; only a survival bribe.

But it never truly pays off. Sure, bills may be paid, but the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual debt is carved deeper and deeper into her soul.

This was not who she was made to be.

Then to add more burden, she now has a child under her roof. Not only may this demand significant extra energy and resources, but the girl herself is now extra vulnerable to the sex industry due to proximity. A potential for disaster.

Can I explain to you how much hope is not present in this situation? When you are a prostitute, that is your life, and the way out seems nearly impossible. We see it all the time at New Name. Which is why we don’t measure results, but instead focus on love. The opposition is real, and the way is hard.

Which is why the next part of the story gripped my heart.

This little girl began attending the CarePoint Center through the non-profit. There she found care for her body, mind, and soul. She grew and developed, and even begin taking her child-like faith with her into all parts of her life.

Including at home. And including into the thoughts and heart of her aunt.

Because when you find peace and joy and love, you can’t hide it. It just overflows.

Over time, day by day, word by word, this aunt heard the story of Jesus and the power of the cross from the lips of child. And there was hope — finally, hope — in that.

Hope that Someone accepted her, saw her, loved her, embraced her.

And he loves her because he loves her because he loves her.

When you live a life of constant misuse, it’s hard to believe that someone would actually love you without you doing anything to for it. It’s free, so very free. So unbelievable. It simply must be miraculous.

This is the part of the story that I want to see in detail someday. The moment that Jesus completely breaks her chains that have bound her to prostitution and set her free. It instantly brought to mind the song Alabaster Box, when CeCe Winans sings about Mary, a former prostitute, breaking her whole life and alabastor box at the feet of Jesus, and testifying to others,

“You weren’t there the night he found me, you did not feel what I felt when he wrapped his loving arms around me. You don’t know the cost of the oil in my alabaster box.”

It was that moment in the story I felt all the emotions at once.

A riot in the soul.

Tears came down my eyes without thought, the weight and miracle of it all was so heavy. We pray for years for some of our women to break out of the life. And now look how God used the testimonial of a little orphaned girl.

Though in reality, she is not little, and not orphaned. She is a daughter of the most high King! And in that place is power, unimaginable power.

That moment of intense inner feeling was immediately followed by, “And we are organizing the Ride for Hope around Lake Victoria in June of 2017. If there are any avid bicyclists out there, we invite you to join!”

At that moment Brian, who was sitting next to me, gives me a knowing look and says, “You doing that?” He knew I was training for the Chicago Triathlon. I immediately retorted, “I am not an avid bicyclist!”

And in that moment I knew I would be joining the team.

(*insert comment, “Well that escalated quickly!”*)

I didn’t realize it would be 600 miles. And I also didn’t totally register the reality I had to raise $12,000.

I just knew that I leaned into feeling my heart, and then did something about it.

And that makes me feel vulnerable. That I can’t really give a better explanation other than, “I cried. And felt so hard it hurt.”

Thank God for Justin Dillon and his recent appearance on the Chasing Justice podcast. Because he puts words to what I’ve wanted to say, but have never been able to describe when I’m trying to process through those intense heart riots I get every once in a while:

This feeling, while it’s not accomplishing something in the world, is accomplishing something in me. But this feeling is also a currency, and yet I don’t know where to spend it. It’s crazy when we have these intense feelings to change the world and we don’t know where to spend that currency. If we don’t spend it on something, that’s when it starts to create a debt in our soul. It creates a callousness and cynicism. Because we were made to fight injustice. That feeling came from the infinite and touched by our finite.

Yes. Yes it’s all true. The more I internalize the deepest feelings I experience, the more callous I become. I’ve felt that tension, because it’s also pretty uncomfortable to act out on those desires. But it sure does give me more joy.

Justin continues on to talk about our culture of “giving back.”

Giving back is saying, “I’m good. I’ve got enough. I’m going to give a little bit back.” But I don’t like what it’s saying about us. It’s void of meaning. Really what the world needs is not giving back, but giving in. It’s realizing, “There’s something in me greater than what’s against others.”

Giving in. It’s not pushing away the feelings. It’s giving in to them. And being ok with what it may cause you do to.

Because love makes you do crazy things. And often they don’t have logical explanations outside of, “I just really cared.”

But that, my friends, is the most logical, and most fulfilling, way to live life.

Crazy is normal to the wholehearted person.

Would you consider supporting me on for the Ride for Hope?

We are raising funds through the end of June 2017. Every little bit helps!

Visiting brothels in India

August 4, 2016

At 1:00am this morning I finally landed in Mumbai. And so the journey begins.

That was a good 8 months ago. I’m not exactly sure why I didn’t write a blog post giving a detailed account of my trip to India soon after I returned.

Perhaps some information is too heavy, some sights too indescribable — and not in a Grand Canyon kind of “indescribable” where you are overcome with awe and wonder. More so the loss of words to define things that are preciously and grippingly sober.

There are many blog posts telling of the plight of the poor and marginalized. Much social work can have a similar story, and often told from the perspective of the powerful ones. It may be “good power,” but it’s still weighty. Maybe sounding something like this:

There are people in the world who are mistreated (by my standards) and live in unfortunate states (by my standards) and we must change their story (to look more like mine) and I get to tell their story (from my perspective).

When interacting with those who survive under the crushing arm of injustice from evil power forces, it’s easy to saunter into that situation, and proclaim, “A new sheriff has arrived in town!” Thus kicking out the evil power who’s been forcing the poor to do what they want and enforcing a “just” process that requires new rules to be followed.

Often the only thing in common in these 2 scenarios is the fact that the poor always have choices made for them. They are simply the words and not actually the writers in their own story.

So thus my hesitation in relaying experiences and being the storyteller. These are real humans and they have incredible dignity.

Yes, injustices must have light shown on it. As partners in humanity we have the privilege of using our privileges to stand in the gap and be the bridge. Yet always keeping in mind the will and autonomy of the people we meet, allowing them to be apart of the process and representing them truthfully, humanly.

And there you have my light-hearted introduction!

Most of what I’m writing below I’m pulling from my journal during the trip, so you can be sure it will read like that. Any local names have been changed to protect identities.

Mumbai, India

Often I feel anxious and troubled, that the bad people are getting away with things, that if I love I will be mistreated. But God uses the panic in our lives to lead us up to the breakthrough. He makes the way.

“I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. He bends down to listen.” Psalm 116

I thought about this passage when I was praying for the women we would be meeting. He bends down to listen— he really does. He hears the cries and the woes of the women we meet. He knows their pain, even the pain they won’t acknowledge. He wants to set them free. This is my God. If I can pray his mercy and care over them, I must accept it as well over myself.

Entrance into India

The taxi ride from the airport to the hotel at 3:00am was interesting. I was the last of the team to arrive and had to find my way to the hotel on my own. My Hindi-speaking taxi driver didn’t know where the hotel was, so he asked a group of taxi drivers on the side of the street. Then he asked another group. And then the guys at the gate. At this point I thought I would never make it there. I finally pulled it up on Google maps and found that it wasn’t too far away— just a mile. So we puttered away in the tiny car that my legs didn’t really fit in, and was thankful for the cool post-rain breeze that gave relief to the humidity.

The next morning after breakfast, we sat in the lobby and waiting for Sela to come. She’s faithfully led the brothel outreach for over 20 years in a city several hours from Mumbai. I was pining to meet her. When she showed up, I wasn’t expecting someone so small! But you could feel her care and love right away. So welcoming and inviting. I knew she could be friends with anyone in a moment.

Mumbai was quite the interesting place, but at first I was so distracted by the crazy driving, close calls, bikes, motorcycles, people … it was chaos! But our driver evaded them all. That combined with driving on the opposite side of the street was some cause for stress at times.

Then I started looking at the city around me. So much dingy housing, shacks, trash, dirt, and just overall poverty. And it wasn’t just a section. It kept going and going. At first it was a shocking sight, but then I tried hard to imagine the life of these people and that this is their life and they have plenty of dignity. They work and have families and try to provide for them. Their housing is different from mine, but it doesn’t mean they need fixing.

I think it’s important to accept the difference up front so that you can enter any home and feel welcome, because it’s humans that make you feel welcome, not just a space.

We finally arrived at our hotel after about 3 hours of driving through the mountains. Many things to take in during the ride. Children peeing on the streets, trash and junk everywhere, a woman sitting on top of tiny food cart, the red third eye many people had, the colorful clothing the women wore, groups of people sitting together for lunch outside under shade, children coming home from school in their uniforms that looked very British-like, the mass amounts of people. So much to take in and observe.

My first brothel walk

Yesterday was riveting. Yet comforting as well. I have to keep reminding myself that we walked into brothels and that is not normal. Yet it seemed so normal. I always found myself at peace. Maybe that’s kingdom stuff. Maybe this is part of the progression for me. It began with drug camps 5 years ago, then drug aftercare homes, then homeless camps, then domestic violence victims, then strip clubs, then street prostitution, then massage parlors.  I guess going into a brothel wasn’t such a huge jump. And what I saw there was similar in many ways to what I’ve seen everywhere else: women that desperately need to be loved. People trapped in the grip of sin and exploitation. This is another place where the love of the Father gets to ride in and take over.

Sela led us through the large brothel district, armed with candy, hair accessories and beanie babies. The first group of ladies were on the side of the alley, three younger women that Nora later described as having such searing  pain in their eyes that it haunted her. We gave them hair clips and asked their names and told them how beautiful they were. When we came by later a man was talking to them, another customer.

We moved on to 2 women sitting against a wall. We said hello and they smiled. The one had such a pretty smile and was so tiny. We kept moving to a group of 4-5 women under the covering of the building. Across the street was a old brothel that had recently collapsed. Rubble was everywhere. These ladies were a bit older and after giving them chocolates we sat down and talked.

First asking names, then just listening, lots of picture taking. They loved to see themselves in the pictures. Then Sela talked with them and we sang Jesus Loves Me. That is when tears came to my eyes. Jesus loves them, no matter what. And the same is for me. We then laid hands on them and prayed, a together moment. So sweet. Afterwards the picture taking continued — they were so happy and one lady even started singing and dancing. We knew the fruit of Sela’s efforts over many years brought us to this point.

We walked around the corner into another brothel, this time going inside and sitting in the front room. The women gestured to us to sit on the seats and they sat on the floor on cardboard. They were so hospitable and even offered us tea. We gave the little boy there one of the beanie babies. Then we talked and Sela interpreted. They asked our names, what we do for a living, remarking on our features. One women sat on the other side and was a bit younger and looked very sad. There were about 6-7 women all together. Then eventually we sang again and went around and we all prayed. Then Sela prayed and also sang. She has such a beautiful voice. I was reminded again that I am here in another culture sitting accepted with prostitutes. Dirt never stopped Calvary blood. Later Sela told us that there were younger girls inside that we not allowed to come out. Many never leave their rooms and haven’t seen the light of day in years.

After lunch she took me and Katie to go into another large brothel house. We first stopped and talked with 2 women at the bottom. One was young and pregnant and she smiled so deeply at us. There was something in her eyes. Like a light and a hope and a plea for love and acceptance. She for some reason was so excited to see us but of course couldn’t relay that to us in English. We talked and communicated with hands. We found out she had 1 child and so we gave her a beanie baby. Then we prayed for both of them and saw tears in their eyes.

We moved on up the stairs. We walked up a total of 4 flights of stairs and saw room after room full  of women. On the first floor was much younger women who had a beautiful little girl. They weren’t open to prayer but they were still welcoming.

Then we moved up and I kept looking around at the little living rooms and bedrooms that had women after women. A true brothel house. We stopped into one room where a woman had been lying on the bed. Sela talked with her while we interacted with the little 6 year old boy who was taking our pictures. We prayed over her and then walked down the hall where there were 4 women in a kitchen watching TV. After talking briefly, Sela had us pray over them for healing. So I bent down and touched their knees and prayed as well. I want to see God’s miracles in body and soul. That he would heal their body and that they would thank him and it would lead them to Jesus who is the ultimate healer. Several of the women eyes were full of tears and we told them all God bless you and left.

While walking downstairs, it was obvious Sela knew many of the people. She would say ‘hi’ and the women would wave at us. We passed at least 4 men on our way down the stairs. It was hard to comprehend the realities they live under, that they can serve anywhere from 20-40 men a day.

The brothel children

One of my most poignant memories was the day we visited the brothel children daycare. Sela told us that when she first tried to connect with this Hindu-led daycare center, she was roughly pushed away. They hated her and the religion she represented.

But then, after months and years of persistence, she slowly gained their respect. They came to trust and love her. And invited her into the daycare to minister to the children. Soon, they started sending children to Sela’s salon in the brothel district to provide the children with clothing, toys, and prayer. It was an unlikely relationship, but a real one at that.

We walked up a staircase inside of what seemed a large empty building. At the top we were ushered into an area that had several rooms. We could hear children singing around the corner.

Sela brought us into an office where we met with one of the women in leadership. She brought in another women, a powerful Hindu lawyer, who apparently used to hate Sela, but eventually grew to respect her and now supports her work. She gave us a few guidelines and then brought us into the lesson room.

We sat down on benches in front of what had to be 30 children — all were less than 5 years old, some as young as even 1. They were so beautiful. This one girl in front of me to the right drew me in. Big brown eyes, the cutest dress, and full of baby-girl sweetness. She was probably 3 years old.

The teachers gave them some instructions, and then they started to sing with much gusto. Some of the songs we recognized the tunes — like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star — and others Indian children songs. It was a private performance for us!

Then we had a chance to sing for them. We stuck with a song we had sang several times before, a classic, Jesus Loves Me.

This I know. For the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to him belong. 

They are weak,

But he is strong.

My voice cut off at “Little ones” because of the weight of those words.

Of the most vulnerable little ones in the world, these are the ones.

And God sees them. They belong to him. They are loved.

But I can’t make it work in my mind. They live in brothels, often hiding under their mother’s bed during service to a customer. This life they are growing up in will probably be what they are enslaved in as well?

God, where is the Jesus Loves Them at this point? Do you? Where are you? Can you?

So many emotions. Proud of their performance. Inspired by their resilience. Gripped by their vulnerability. Grieved by the abuses they may suffer outside of this safe place.

Wanting to look away, but not able to.

This is why it’s hard to write about these stories. There’s not a happy ending. There’s not an easy solution. There’s no conclusion besides this:

“And then we left.”

Modern Day Hero

I met a modern day hero and champion while in India. Sela, an incredible woman of pure gold.

I wanted to sit and listen for hours on end about her perspectives and stories and rescues and struggle and battle. Stories of daring rescues and police hunts on their home door step; girls being locked in rooms for years on end, even up to 10 years in a case she knew about; a women being healed of her illness due to Sela’s prayer; a brothel madame violently resisting Sela, and then after 5 years of prayer she amazingly opened up to a relationship and let Sela in to meet the other women; a young joyful 12 year old girl who was one day sold by her mother to a foreigner for sex one night; the young girl who pleaded to Sela that she was ready to try to escape the brothel, but since the board at that time was dysfunctional, they wouldn’t release funds for aid and Sela found out the next week the girl had hung herself; when one women was pregnant and tried to abort her baby, and the only way should wouldn’t do it is if Sela would adopt the baby. Sela ended up adopted what ended up being twin baby boys.

The more I got to know Sela, the more I realized that as we walked through the red light district, we were literally walking in the shadow of her miracle, the fruit of her harvest. It was one of my greatest honors so far in my life.

Where is the hope?

I’ve been processing for a long time. Or perhaps avoiding the process.

It’s hard to not have answers. It’s hard to deal with your own humanity. It’s hard to take a good, long look at darkness.

Because sometimes you’re afraid that what you find is that things are a lot more complex, a lot more worse, and a lot more hopeless that you thought.

I’ve been thinking…

I think that’s about where we need to arrive. To let ourselves be overcome because it’s that point where we find the limits of our own selves.

The natural runs out.

The supernatural can rush in.

I think that’s why it’s good for me to be in this space. The “impossible” space. Where I can’t be the savior or the hope of the world. Because if it were possible, I’m pretty sure I’d believe that I could solve all the world’s problems in a day. Really, I’m that self-sustainable.

But that’s not life. And it’s not reality.

Reality is there’s so much space of uncertainty, of questions that have no answers, of searching for what you may never really find.

And that’s ok.

Being fully aware of my limited scope reminds of the unlimited power of the One who can save the world, who has saved the world, and who is on the move to make all things new.

It’s hard to be the one that steps into darkness and then leaves, “getting” to be the person who talks about it and not stick around to create the frontline solution.

It’s hard to be the reader, to only hear and listen to devastation of lives that are so far removed from our own reality, being a “sharer” instead of practical hand.

But, we really do need all of us. All the gifts. All the perspectives.

Being present with uncomfortable problems is a mature thing to do. It says, “I’m sticking with this until we find breakthrough. I’m not going to quit. I’m not going anywhere.”

So you and I don’t have to be in India to be present. That’s the beauty of prayer. That’s the beauty of the Church. We’re in it together. We can talk, and share, and present, and think, and pray. And it really is all valuable.

Especially that prayer piece.

Prayer means we get to be present in sorrow — we can lament and hurt with those who labor under the grief of injustice as if we were right next to them in person.

Prayer means we get to be present in solutions — we can create and hope in prayer for something or someone to be that answer, even if we never get to do it ourselves.

Social justice need never be selfish. Just because we can’t travel or live in front of issues doesn’t mean we don’t get to be involved. Because since when was it all about us?

It’s hard to post an Instagram photo about the years of prayer for the brothel children to be set on a path of freedom and hope. But those 350 followers will sure see that white face with the brown ones in a visible sign of “good-doing.”

Yeah, on a scale of 1-to-who-cares, it’s off the charts.

So my takeaway from the India trip?

Let’s love from afar, and pray like someone’s life depends on it.

Because it really does.

Is it possible to be both single and happy? From yours truly, this Valentine’s Day.

Is it possible to be both single and happy?

It’s an intriguing question, really.

This is not ever really a direct question anyone says towards me, but sometimes it’s implied: how can you be single and happy at the same time? Not only do I feel that implication from the world around me at literally every corner, but I also at times come face to face with the question myself.

Is singleness and happiness mutually exclusive?

And just to heighten the intensity, let’s ask that on Valentine’s Day. On the cultural celebratory day of love, when you don’t have a lover, is it possible to be happy?

Let’s explore this.

This has been a top-of-mind topic since it’s come up in three separate conversations in the last 2 weeks. And those conversations have been specifically with women who feel that desire to be with someone, to be married, but also feel like, “Am I just waiting around to start living my life?”

It comes from a tension, an insecurity about committing to a specific path or personal values when knowing that means possibly saying no to a relationship, to marriage.

For females, this is an especially difficult conundrum. In our world, especially the Christian culture, there’s always an expectation, whether quietly implied or explicitly exhorted, to find our purpose and mission through a man and through marriage. Here’s the implication:

If you’re going to mean something to this world, it’s going to come through another human being.

Though that’s a duo-gender message, for females this is often paired with the concept of submission. To submit.

And it is until we do this flawlessly, submit our will and purpose through another human being, then we will find true happiness and meaning.

Say that out loud. Sometimes logically and verbally expressing that belief brings us to a stark realization:

That conclusion is not reflective of who God is and how God made us.

First of all, in the Garden of Eden, before the Fall and any sin, God gave a job before he gave marriage. God gave purpose in an intimately personal way before giving a path to do that alongside another person.

This means that each of us is made individually unique before God — which means we each are special, set apart, called, and meaningful. Though we need community and relationships to thrive, we only need God individually to have meaning. To tie a human being to our core purpose means to resign ourselves to co-dependency, that in order to have meaning, I must be attached to you.

So, from the beginning, we are missioned and meaning-full. When God looks at you, He sees a full person that has a unique name.


Second, let’s look at the word that trips us all up: submission. If one day I’m supposed to release my will and life to another person, then why would I start my own knowing I’d have to give that up? Would my primary value as a wife be my ability to serve men? And if I’m supposed to only find it through a husband, then why would I think I’d ever have something special to offer the world? And if submission only applied to marriage, then are singles not supposed to submit to anything?

I love what Lisa Bevere* said about this topic: “I heard a definition of submission that framed and aligned it with God’s plan for all Christians, not just couples. Consider this: the prefix sub means “under,” and mission is an assignment. Put them together, and we can draw a conclusion that submission means “under the same assignment or mission.”

This gives so much more intentionality and thought behind not just personal mission, but also marriage. Instead of fearfully thinking, “In order to be married, I have to loss my mission,” instead we can think, “When I choose a marriage partner, it’s because we are under the same mission together.”

Why would God ask you to submit to God ultimately, to be sent on His mission in the world, and then nullify that unique mission because you are now married?

God’s mission and call is always greater than man’s, no matter who that person is.

Which is why I think, as single women, we can freely and fearlessly move into outrageous acts of mission because that doesn’t deter God’s path or purpose for us. It will actually move us closer to the best outpouring of it.

What does this have to do with happiness?

Actually, I don’t think this has anything to do with happiness. Which is the point of this article.

I’ll use my own story as an example because I’ve always wrestled with that question: Am I happy?

Though I love being happy and can easily pinpoint those moments of extreme highs in my life (picture me prancing carelessly through a wheat field throwing flowers into the wind), I realized pretty early on that that picture of “happiness” never really motivated me. For such a long time I was always obsessed with one thing: purpose.

I mean, check out this blog title. And no, Vita By Design is not some sort of customized vitamin supplement. Vita means “life.” And By Design means, “on purpose.”

One life, on purpose.

I have a bit of an odd history, per se, with all the moves and experiences in my life. There were many crisis moments of change and I wasn’t satisfied with trite answers about silver linings. I wanted to know “why?” What was the purpose?

It began as a practice in youth and has continued through today. And I can’t say it’s been easy. Actually, a better word would be messy.

And throughout the time of trying so hard to find purpose in my life, I had to live with the question of singleness in the back of my mind. Am I resigning to singleness in order to find purpose?

From my perspective, it’s most likely only been down the road of singleness that I have found personal meaning in this world through God. I’ve had to let go of figuring out who I am in light of another person or of the expectations others perceive of me. I’ve sat down over long spaces of time and let God really show me who I am. Honestly, I was always terrified of that person because it’s much too abnormal. It took being threatened, mocked, and on the verge of losing everything before I was willing to stand up for myself and say, “No, I’m a person with worth who has a gifting in a specific way.”

You remembering that part about messy? You don’t even know the half. It’s been in this dirt of bitterness, shame and oppression (both outwardly and inwardly) that all seeds of goodness have been planted. And the harvest is the obvious things. That’s what you get to see — accomplishment, mercy, kind actions, goodness, justice for humanity. But you weren’t there when it was planted, all the bitterness, pain, self-shaming, hate for my life and my heart, loss of belief in any of the goodness or reality of God. No one else was there to save me from that.

Besides God.

Sometimes I wonder if we, as single women (or men I suppose), never get to taste the true God because we’re always looking for someone else to be our Savior. To tell us what to do when confused, to save us from despair when all is lost, to provide for us when we’re flat broke, to comfort us when we’re lost and afraid.

I remember at one specific epic low point in my life, after I had lost all the work I had and a job offer, I thought for the first time in my life, “Maybe this is why girls get married? So that when these things happen she can rely on someone else to provide for her?” It was a bitter moment, because I knew I could no longer provide for myself, financially or emotionally.

But that’s exactly when I found God as my true Husband. He showed up and he saved the day. I mean, there was a journey involved that was extremely hard. I remember not having money to buy food that day and realizing, “Well, looks like I’m fasting and praying this week!” And judging by where my life is today 2 1/2 years later, I would say it work 😉

Now here’s the hardest part of all of us, and I know that because I’ve fought it continually: if I step out and into a defined mission that I believe is tailored for me, then that means I won’t ever get married, because guys are only looking for girls that fit into their own life trajectory.

Now, once we say it out loud, it sounds a bit silly. But it’s TOTALLY real when dwelling on it, right?? And it does actually makes sense to a degree. When I train businesses on marketing, we intentionally lead them to define a target market, and that makes them really uncomfortable, because then that might be saying no to some people. But that’s what we want. We want some people to see their business and think, “Yes that’s for me!” and others to think, “Nope, that’s not for me at all.”

Choosing to live and stand for your beliefs and personal passions is going to immediately polarize some crowds. And I hate that feeling. But it’s true. And it’s actually a good thing that certain people will be attracted to you more than others due to your life choices.

And if anyone gets this, believe me, it’s me. I have been so torn and uncomfortable with my calling. Words like, “Inadequate, unprepared, naive, un-understanding, and pointless” are my constant companion when standing in the gap for those who have been sexually exploited and trafficked. I’ve come so close to giving up on this in the past because I’ve felt so incapable and unworthy.

On top of that, leaning into this mission means I’m committed to certain counter-culture things: doing outreach at strip clubs and other places of adult entertainment, believing in abstinence and then a monogamous life through marriage, exposing the harms of pornography, advocating for healing in our communities due to the brokenness through the sexualization of women. I really did believe and fear that moving into this calling would render me single forever because I couldn’t imagine men being vulnerable enough to partner with my mission from God. I just never saw too many examples of that.

This is also why I died a thousand times in my heart and soul when the mic taps were released of Trump’s verbal description of how he thinks about and uses women. It wasn’t simply that he did that (I see that everyday in the fight against sexual exploitation). It was the visceral defense of that action from not just the general community, but from Christians — men and women.

“That’s just how men are,” and “It’s standard locker room talk,” and “Boys will be boys,” and “Why should we have standards when that’s the way the culture is anyway?”

Watching this play out choked me with alone-ness and fear of the future of all women. That if we don’t submit to this belief that we are naive and unbelievable.

But in short answer to that fear, it’s not true. Men are not supposed to talk like that. Humans are not supposed to use each other. We should have standards for how we think about, treat, and talk to women and men. Period.

Which one will you choose?

As you can imagine, it can be an internal storm, and I don’t think I’m exempt or unusual. We live this — a fear that we’ll have to choose, man or mission.

At the end of the day, I believe each of us, married or single, have to look back and assess, “Did I live up to my God-given gifts today?”

Does it mean it’s a paid position, or a social cause, or a title? I don’t think so. At my core, I believe my life calling is Mercy. Which isn’t super popular because it doesn’t jive well with common sense. But despite what others may think or interpret it as, that is what gives me meaning each day and I have only God to answer for how well I lived that out.

Am I happy?

Finally we get here. Am I a happy and single girl on Valentine’s Day?

Honestly, I can’t say I am. Once I start asking myself “Am I happy?” I start remembering all the pain that has stolen good, happy moments in my life that isn’t necessarily even related to relationships. The wounds start throbbing again and I easily make a case for all the reasons I’m not fulfilled.


But here’s the thing: I don’t think we were made to be happy. Happy implies a lack of strains and cares. It’s a false reality we think we can obtain by building walls around ourselves and staying as safe as we possibly can, the thought that only hurt-less people are truly happy people.

I look back at my life and some of my “highest” moments were moments when I was living purely who I am and who I was made to be. It was those Mercy-filled moments when God’s purpose and my gifts collided. It hasn’t always been a happy life, per se. But it sure has been meaningful.

So, is this single girl happy on Valentine’s Day? I guess not. But I sure do have meaning.

And, you know what?

I guess that’s what makes me so happy.

I’ll end with a selection from Ron Rolheiser which has additionally inspired me recently in light of conversations with friends about singleness. I hope you lean into desiring a meaningful life today, not necessarily a happy one. I think that comes after the meaningful part.

Am I happy? Is my life a happy one? Am I happy inside my marriage? Am I happy with my family? Am I happy in my job? Am I happy with my church? Am I happy inside my own skin?

Are these good questions to ask ourselves? No. They’re questions with which to torture ourselves. When we face our lives honestly this kind of question about happiness is more likely to bring tears to our eyes than solace to our souls because, no matter how well our lives are going, none of us live perfectly fulfilled lives. Always there are unfulfilled dreams. Always there are areas of frustration. Always there are tensions. Always there are deeper hungers that are being stifled

The question should not be: Am I happy? Rather the questions should be: Is there meaning in my life? Is there meaning in my marriage? Is there meaning in my family? Is there meaning in my job? Is there meaning inside my church?

We need to ask the deep questions about our lives in terms of meaning rather than in terms of happiness because, for the most part, we have a false, over-idealized, and unrealistic concept of happiness.

We tend to equate happiness with two things, pleasure and lack of tension. Hence we fantasize that for us to be happy we would need to be in a situation within which we would be free of all the tensions that normally flood into our lives.

But that isn’t what constitutes happiness. Meaning is what constitutes happiness and meaning isn’t contingent upon pain and tension being absent from our lives:  Imagine if someone had come up to Jesus as he was dying on the cross and asked him the question: Are you happy up there? His answer, I am sure, would have been unequivocal: “No!” However, the perspective is quite different if, while on the cross, Jesus would have been asked this question: “Is there meaning in what you are doing up there?”

There can be deep meaning in something even if there isn’t happiness in the way we superficially conceive of it.

*quote from Lisa Bevere’s book, Lioness Arising.

Where has all the honor for women gone?

It’s was a beautiful, sunny day in Glen Ellyn,

a west Chicago suburb. This place is a homey town and completely fun for exploring and enjoyment. It was a perfect place to meet up with a friend for lunch.

This was a month ago, a time when my outreach leader and I have our quarterly meeting where we talk about what’s going on in the Chicago world of human trafficking, sharing how our teams are doing, and speaking words of encouragement. I always look forward to it.

This specific time I was also meeting someone from Craigslist who I was selling a tablet to. While we were waiting for our food, he texted me that he had arrived at the cafe and was standing outside. I excused myself and walked out the front door, unsure of which sidewalk to walk down first.

I turned right, walking past several tables of people on lunch breaks enjoying the nice weather. I had only walked a few steps and didn’t see anyone yet, so I turned quickly to look the other way.

That’s when I saw an entire table of men watching me, just feet away. It seemed that conversation had ceased for the moment, and collectively, they were staring, gawking, at me. And they were definitely not looking at my face.

Immediately all my senses went on high alert as I quickly turned the other way and walked away, noticing my Craigslist contact. While we were doing the exchange, I was overwhelmed with a myriad of emotions.





I was hoping I could hide somewhere, perhaps find another way to go inside the cafe, but that was the only entrance. I walked past them again, trying not to look. Trying not to care.

But I was completely shaken. And it wasn’t as if this reaction was completely thought through and I had decided, “You know, this isn’t a good situation and that behavior isn’t right, so I should feel afraid, angry, and embarrassed.”

No, my reaction was involuntary it seemed. And it bothered me. And though I couldn’t process at that moment, I realized later as I drove home why this situation bothered and scared me so much.

You see, it wasn’t just one man doing that.

No, that happens all the time. I have to say I’m semi-used to it now. I know how to manage my emotions when it happens and am constantly aware of myself, knowing that if I had to protect myself from one man, I would. Like 2 days after this situation: I was walking home from Trader Joes and a man came out of a restaurant, and right after we passed cordial hellos he went on to stop and mentally undress me, all while trying to keep small talk, not once looking at my eyes. While it disturbed me, I knew all I had to do was keep walking, making sure he wasn’t following me, because, you never know. . .

But this was different. And it was more disturbing.

You see, every man at that table collectively and silently agreed that there was no dishonor  in all of them shamelessly gawking, as if I were some sort of prey.

That causes me despair, not just because I didn’t feel safe anymore, not just because I couldn’t know which guy only does this in his head and which one will act on it, but because they are middle and upper class business men.

These are the men I work alongside every single day. They blend in perfectly to the society. Because, so it seems, every typical business man looks just like them. Well-dressed, have families, have good jobs, basically respectable.

Yet the reality is that I stand in front of them and give presentations and try to sell myself on my skill and intellect, knowing that I have to work as hard as I can to overcome the initial sexual appeal I seem to offer and have simply because I am a woman.

I remember what I wore that day, I dress I loved wearing and one that friends loved as well. And I find it saddening that my first reaction in this situation was, “Is it because of what I’m wearing? Is it because the way I am?”

Because when denigrated, I, along with our culture, always seem to ask first, “What did you do wrong?” And my greatest fear is standing up in court one day to defend myself in a sexual assault case and hearing the judge ask me, “So, what were you wearing?”

I was burning so much after that incident I decided to write this blog post. But then I didn’t. I was too afraid, it was just too embarrassing. Trying to explain objectifying culture based off this one experience? A little too risky.

But then, after this past weekend, I realized that there was more at risk here then my own vulnerabilities. There are many countless women who have gone through unspeakable tragedies at the expense of a surrounding culture that says, “It’s OK and normal to dishonor women because, you know, boys will be boys.” It has forced me to think deeper about this, about my own experiences.

And bring back realities of more than one experience. As I lay in bed a few nights ago, dwelling on the pervasiveness of this issue, I recalled an experience I had completely forgotten about for years.

I was a junior in college

and working part-time off campus to have some money to live on. It was a decent job and a good way to encounter the real work world.

I was roaming the aisles helping customers when a fellow classmate walked in. Though he had been in a small class with me the previous semester, I didn’t particularly know him too well. I remember us praying for him in class for a missions trip that he was going on overseas.

It was kind of crowded in the shop and we were both trying to get through the same aisle. Instead of backing up, I leaned against the counter to let him pass by. And as he did he grabbed my butt. And then kept on walking.

It was as if my body revolted against myself and I felt like throwing up. I ran into a section that was secluded and silently screamed into my hand. I was shaking, catching my breath, and angry as hell. It was as if every created emotion hit me all at once and my anxiety was over the top. I didn’t know what to do. I visualized myself going outside, where he now was, and kicking him as hard as I could. Maybe punching him in the face.

But . . . could I really do that?

Then the questions came. Was it that big of a deal? Would I be able to defend myself against the questions that would follow? Was it worth the shame? In my head, me admitting to him doing that was saying that there was something about me that cause him to do it.

At least, that’s what I was thought, perhaps what I was taught.

I grew up in a conservative Christian culture and my college was exactly that. In that world, there’s a high standard for dress, especially for females. I was taught that girls dressing inappropriately caused guys to stumble. And based off the fact that I got in trouble since puberty for immodesty (I’m tall and there’s more “of” me so that automatically brought more attention), I knew that the first question I would be asked if I tried to make any claims would be, “So, what were you wearing? Can you put that on? We’ll make a decision about this case after you do that.”

In that moment in the hidden corner of the store, I processed none of that completely. But intuitively, based off how I knew the world worked, I knew that my only decision to save myself from shame would be to do . . . nothing. Just work as hard as I can to forget it. Which I did. Until this past weekend.

Somehow telling the story removes it’s power. And I also realize now that to not call sexual assault by it’s name, is to allow that same guy to continue doing that same thing to more and more women. Except now, 7 years later, if he’s never been called out for it, who knows what he could be doing now. There’s a price we pay for silence. It’s a double-edged sword: we females risk our shame for talking, and we also risk continue abuse if we don’t. Somehow, we’re the ones that seem to always lose.

Thought I didn’t understand it at the time, I was sexually assaulted. That is wrong, and that is illegal.

But at that time? I sadly wasn’t entirely sure whose fault it was.

As I lay in bed reliving that whole situation, I thought, “I wonder how many unquestioned ‘guy talk’ sessions, how many hours of approved sexual conversations did he participate in before he felt the boldness to act on those words, to a girl he didn’t even know?”

Two years later I was in graduate school.

I had finished my first year and was taking a trip with my friend to get away at the beach. I was on a short flight and sat next to this guy who was probably my age, maybe slightly older. His friends in the back of the plane were rowdy and loud, probably intoxicated, but he was sober and rolled his eyes at their antics.

We didn’t have much conversation, but near the end of the flight he asks me a few questions about myself and my hobbies. He was kind of expressive and dramatic, so it was slightly funny listening to his stories.

Then out of nowhere he looks at my chest and says, “By the way, you have very nice breasts.”

I was so shocked, and I looked directly back at him and said with a dead-stare, “That was completely unnecessary.”

What was so interesting about this situation was how utterly shocked he was at my reaction, as if I should have been empowered and thankful for his open gratitude for my body.

He looked out the window and said, “Oh look, we’re about to land!” And then turned away from me the rest of the trip, obviously very uncomfortable.

My reaction? After wading through the myriad of emotions, the fear, the anger, the shame, everything. . . I again start feeling bad for standing up to him. I’m serious people. I felt like I had been mean to him, maybe there was a different way I should’ve handled it.

I had complete confusion about who was the one that should be embarrassed right now.

It was becoming a pattern, the ones most embarrassed are not the ones speaking these words and doing these acts.

If they’re not ashamed, if they see not problem with it, then is it . . . normal?

Though I didn’t realize it then, I was sexually harassed. That is wrong, and that is illegal.

Three years ago,

well after grad school and into the beginning of my work career, I found myself in a relationship that was an entire lie. His life revolved around exploiting people for his benefit. Work, relationships, community – you name it.
And I myself was in the center of it, one of his women living in one of his lives.

Though it was only a few months, I remember being in a lot of confusion and many days of experiencing self-loathing and disrespect. He literally knew how to make me feel terrible for who I was, and then be the hero who rescued me from that.

It’s pretty twisted, and not normal. And it’s what is psychologically known as a Narcissist. We throw around the term a lot, as if someone is a narcissist if they are just a selfish, self-absorbed person. That is only a partial definition. A Narcissist is a person with true distorted reality, where they are always the victim and always the hero. They live manipulation and find vulnerable people to be their conquests. So, be careful on how you use that term. It does not apply to every annoying selfish person out there.

As you can probably guess, living in this world causes a good amount of damage and plenty of emotional wounds.

When I finally got out, it was as if a light was turned on and I knew right away who he was because it was the exact profile of pimps and traffickers — he was just not that far down the path of evil yet. I just never thought someone like that could fool me.

But you know what? It actually took going through that to finally stand up for myself, to finally believe I wasn’t worth being dishonored.

I couldn’t play with fire anymore. I couldn’t awkwardly laugh at the kinda-crude jokes. The locker room chat, the boys will be boys acts, the eye staring . . . the whole culture that shrugs as it as “not really that bad” gives room for these kind of guys to exist, and live freely as they please.

Because they know they’ll never be questioned. I know, because I tried to. I tried to assert my beliefs, and he always had a sob story for his actions and life.

During this time I found out one of my friends had been raped many times over the course of 9 months. When it was all said and done, her abuser would not see a day in jail because the (in)justice system believed she “asked for it,” though it was simply her way of surviving and protecting herself, which is common in sexual assault cases.

Also during this time I remember having a managers meeting with the CEO and GM of our company. He was enthusiastically teaching us about client engagement and treatment. He decided to use an example: “Hey (manager), what would you do if you were at a bar and you saw a gorgeous girl you wanted to get laid with?

After a moment of tethered anticipation from the team, he exclaimed “You compliment her!” The GM laughed along. “Or, you know, give her some money.” Yes, that was their best  way of explaining how to win customers over.

I was so lost in that moment, because these were people I knew and trusted. So, maybe this is just . . . the way it is? I guess maybe all guys are like that? It was hard to process, truly.

So after I came out of the other side in that toxic relationship, and started being more aware to my world around me, I realized that, no, it is not OK for you to treat me like this, or anyone else. In fact, no guy should be like that. I was furious I had been so deceived, and, as I came to realize, deceived for years. Deceived into believing that it’s acceptable to put up with behavior like that, whether in speech or actions.

I learned that abusive, manipulative behavior requires complete cut-off. For me to even vaguely stay friends would’ve communicated approval and opportunity for this to happen again. Yes, I forgave him. No, I did not keep friendship. Oh yes, he verbally repented and expressed sorrow, and I still walked away and I will not allow him back in my life.

Do you know why? Because true repentance requires sacrifice. It means loss. And he could never give up himself or his wants.

It was tempting. It was tempting to believe him when he said, “Well, we’re all sinners and what I did was terrible, so I’m asking God for forgiveness and I want you back because I know you’re a good, Christian, forgiving girl.”

It was through that experience that I found my calling, my whole calling.

I knew I was supposed to care for broken women and lead them into business, but now I had something I never had before: empathy. I knew how easy it was to get into that situation, and how hard it was to leave, and how broken your life is afterwards.

I also know that while God did not cause me that traumatic experience, He has redeemed it so beautifully. I was in long enough to feel the real pain, and He gave me freedom to use that experience to be a voice for others, to be a bridge of freedom. It’s led me into standing next to victims of sex trafficking and leading them to a new path and life.

Because this work and my own experiences, I’ve seen the dark side of potty-mouth language. The end of that road is death. It creates a safe passage for workers of evil, and inexplicable fear for it’s victims.


I found that not only were other men dishonoring me, but I eventually started dishonoring myself, with either silence or verbally laughing along. We females eventually, day by day, one unquestioned crude remark after another, start subconsciously believing that maybe this is the world we live in, and there’s nothing else to do but play that game and hope we don’t get hurt.

This is not all dark and despairing.

I’m thankful for bright sides, for good experiences, for men of valor. Some who may not blog, who may not speak, but live each day proclaiming honor to women around them by their consistent interest, respect and care for our souls, minds, and hearts.

2 weeks ago I met a man at church who I played softball with this past summer and we started chatting about business. Eventually I told him about the work I do in anti-trafficking. After speaking passionately about it for several minutes, Jeff says, “Wow, so what can I as a man do to help?”

My eyes got big, and I said, “Really?!” I wanted to hug him! My surprise was obvious, and I really didn’t know what to say. When was the last time a successful business man asked if he could help a cause where typically men were exploiting? Normally I just get sighs of sympathy.

It makes me sit a little higher, be a little more confident, when men stand up to actively protect women.

As I looked through my Facebook feed last weekend, I saw a post my friend Quantas wrote his thoughts in response to the recent display of sexual assault:

This makes me think of how much further we, as a society, need to progress to in how we treat women. The misogynistic, hyper masculinity, and overbearing patriarchy that was evident in his “locker room banter” has held women back for far too long. I know I’ve been complicit and an active participant in regarding women as less than equals, less than capable, and less than worthy of due respect.

It’s sad to see how half of our society has been held back from reaching their potential for most of mankind’s existence. It’s heartbreaking to think of how we’ve silenced women, treated them like objects, and held them up to impossible double standards. I’m on a mission to do better and call out others who don’t properly value women, be they male or female.

And that’s really all we want, to be treated as a person, not an object of temptation.

As I was growing and healing from my relationship with my ex, I was learning more and more what it meant to respect myself and understand my own inherent worth, no matter what anyone else said. A year ago I dated a friend for a few months who by example helped me understand these things better. While my ex was the epitome of disrespect, James was the complete opposite, the example of respect and honor for all people, including all women. It was a bit unusual to observe from up close, but I needed to see this “new normalcy” in live action.

I remember once, in a completely thoughtless moment, I made a somewhat suggestive comment about myself and how he probably thinks of me like that. He was immediately deadly serious as he said, “I don’t think like that.” It made me double-take, catching me by surprise. You mean I shouldn’t think of myself that way? And you don’t either? This was unusual for sure.

As I look back now, I realize that I was still having low expectations for honor from men. But not only that, I myself was placing disrespect on myself, that I was the sum worth of my body.

Him taking a stand like that for himself openly pronounced three things: “I am not disrespectful of you, I will not dishonor you, and you are worth more.”

And now, here I am, 29 years old, and finally “getting it,” that maybe I’m worth being honored both to my face and behind my back. That maybe I have disrespected my own self many years because I thought that was the only way to get by and be liked. That maybe not all men think of women as sexual objects. That maybe our culture can one day be a place where I can confidently stand in front of a room of men and be naturally respected for my mind and humanity.

A word to women

I’ve heard over and over these phrases: “That’s just the way it is,” and “I’m sure all guys talk like that,” and “This is all so hypocritical, trying to condemn someone’s actions and just look at our popular music — I’m not going to do anything.”

And then the overwhelming majority of us that simply sigh, “Why are we even surprised?”

To that I say,

When will you be surprised?


At what point will you allow yourself to be shocked?

Will it be when you hear your coworkers talking about the new secretary and who will be the first to get laid with her? Will it be when your 10 year old daughter comes to you and tell you about a man that touched her? Will it be when you find out your friend and neighbor was raped? Will it be when you realize a sex trafficking ring is being led out of a massage parlor 2 blocks from your house and they openly market that “young beautiful girls” are now working? Will it be when you learn of the child being sex trafficked in your subdivision?

To what is your response to these sisters of yours? Would you actually say them, “Well, you shouldn’t be surprised”?

Of course not, I hope. I hope you’d be shocked and surprised. But that’s the end of this road. Crude, disrespectful language + approved time = exploitation of women, of you, of your daughters, of your sisters, of your mothers.

Please, by all means, be surprised! Don’t lose the shock, even if it happens 100,000 times to you. Be outraged. Don’t be discouraged by the hypocrisy and have the courage to feel and love right through it.

It’s hard. It’s not popular and you may be thought of as “one of those emotional females.” But for us to be silent is to agree that it’s OK to speak or act in sexually objectifying ways.

You know what I think? I think we’ve lost our way. I think we’ve lost the purity of the Image of God we were made to be. It’s muddy and unclear, we’re subtlety told day after day, relationship after relationship, that we’re the problem. And the only way through it is to exchange the dishonor for power where we now use our bodies to get men to do what we want. By accepting dishonor and it’s cheap power, we in turn become the ones who now dishonor another.

You’re worth more. You are not a body, but a soul. Your freedom and empowerment comes from within, not without. You do not have to disrobe to be free.

I invite you — take the road less traveled by and search out your true value that is not tied to a person, an income, a compliment, a body type, or a life stage. It’s in one Person, and He will leave you completely whole.

A word to men

Value women.

Verbally. Actionly. Thoughtfully.

I remember after breaking up with my ex that I sat with my brothers and their friends and told them, “Please, just hang out with some girls and let them know what it means to be treated right. Because so many of us don’t know what that looks like.”

Set aside your ego and express heart-felt admiration that has no objective other than to be genuine. Obviously, you can do this to men or women. But if you notice that a female in your community or circle is good at something, tell her so. If she has expressed a certain gifting, applaud that in front of other people. Let her know that men in her life (who have no romantic interest in her) care about her well-being and development in your community.

Also, let a woman lead you. Ask her for her advice, or an explanation on how to do something. Take a course from a female. Read a book by a woman author. Prove your non-bias by seeing if you can do some of these things without criticism and with encouragement.

Because your verbal statements about caring and valuing women are only believed when you actually act on them.

Lastly, realize that my story isn’t all that unique. Leave space in your conversations to allow women who have been sexually discriminated, abused, groped, or hurt to feel safe with you.

And you know what else that means? Not defending and standing with other men or women who discriminate, abuse, grope or hurt females.

You know, we’re listening. And for every defense of misbehavior, our barrier goes up a notch, and we know you would never be someone who would defend and protect us if we were the ones in court due to assault, having to answer the judge’s questions, “So what were you wearing?”

I look forward to the future.

I hope my daughters one day don’t have to face the same world I do because of my openness and willingness to challenge this culture. I think that’s why I find it worth it in the long run, because this is the most difficult post I’ve ever written.

I also pray for spiritual amnesia and innocence, that what was lost can be regained.

I also hope that each new  story I hear from a survivor of trafficking isn’t just old news, that trafficking is never normalized. I hope to be a bridge to the freedom that God has for them.

There’s always hope. Each morning there can be purity of spirit and fresh joy. Redemption makes that possible, and that’s always our next step.

He Was Naked, Too

One of the amazing bonuses of hanging out in the social justice and anti-trafficking crowds is all the incredible people I meet and all the inspiring stories I hear, often first-hand. At a recent IJM Music and Arts Festival, I met Mary Anne at our booth. Our New Name booth was indicative of our work: simple and sincere. There were a few business cards, some small purple plants, and then a stack of copies stapled together. They were copies of a sex trafficking survivor’s story. Mary Anne’s story. As soon as I saw Mary Anne I thought to myself, “Now she’s a writer.” Obviously thoughtful. Unassuming. Kind and approachable. Really sweet too. And that’s when I felt a knot in my stomach that I just powered through and ignored. “No, she couldn’t really have been treated like that. Abused like that. No…,” as if my control in thought recreates reality. I took a copy that night but I wouldn’t read it for some time. I ignored what I didn’t want to accept. But finally I sat down and read. And entered her story. And wept. So hard I couldn’t see. And what I found was in not wanting to accept her story was really a refusal to accept mine. That perhaps the reasoning, “If you do the right things, you won’t be treated the wrong way,” may be flawed. Struggling with the belief that what happened to me must have been my fault because I must have done something wrong. Performance equals love. But what I found in Mary Anne’s story was another step of the healing journey God is taking me on. The step of seeing Jesus with me — the entire time. Never leaving. Never forsaking. Always faithful. And though some of us won’t understand the realities of being trafficked, if you live long enough you will be forsaken and misused. But it’s inside of that pain that we see — up close and in vibrant color — love, freedom, hope and aliveness in Jesus that we never would’ve experienced from afar. It’s a oneness with Christ you can’t find any other way.


“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame…” Hebrews 12:2, NIV


“No! I can’t tell anyone that memory!”

“Really? Why not?”

Why not? Is she serious? Of course she is. My “unthinkables” always seem like “perfect reasonables” to my therapist, JoAnn.

“Because the details are disgusting, and it’s not something you talk about with people. It’s way too extreme.”

“Mary Anne, sex trafficking is in the news these days. Many ministries are working to stop it and to help victims recover. I’m sure this won’t be the first time your friends will have heard about the issue.”

“Well, I’m sure it will be their first time hearing about it in relation to someone they know.”

Sex trafficking. Just hearing JoAnn say those words hurts almost as much as the images that continually flash through my mind no matter how hard I try to blink them away. Everything in me rebels against accepting the reality that those words and images could have anything to do with me.

JoAnn continues voicing her reassurance. “I’ve had other clients during my years as a therapist who had been trafficked in some way. You aren’t the only person I know who has been violated in this way.”

I tuck myself in close and tight on the couch, burying my face. A few tears squeeze out. “But I’m the only one I know.”

“Are you afraid your friends won’t believe you?”

I shake my head no. “It’s not that. I’m afraid….” I swallow and make myself look up at her. Drawing courage from the compassion and strength her tender expression is holding out to me, I name my fear. “What if they never look me in the eye again?”

JoAnn leans in closer, holding my gaze in hers. “Mary Anne, your fear of being judged by people if you tell them your story is coming from shame. You still believe you were the one who did something wrong.”

“I know I didn’t do anything wrong.” I look down again and focus on the pattern of the couch. “But what if they weren’t doing anything wrong? If I’m just dirt anyway, then they were just treating me the way I deserved.”

“Honey, this is where you need to hear from Jesus. Can you express your fear to him and let him speak to you about it?”

Nodding, I take a deep breath, then close my eyes and give in to the images, emotions, and other sensations associated with this sketchy but intense memory.

“It’s a summer afternoon. It feels like I am about ten or twelve years old. I don’t know where I am or who has taken me there. All I can see are the corrugated metal walls of a large storage shed.” Whenever I open up a memory, I always see the walls first. That’s where I kept my attention focused while I was being abused, so I could block my experience of what was happening to me, so I didn’t have to remember.

Trembling, but determined, I turn my gaze away from the metal sheeting of the shed to the naked young girl held captive inside. “I hate seeing myself like that! I feel totally embarrassed and exposed. I want desperately to pull my arms and legs in to cover my nakedness and protect myself from what is coming next, but I can’t. I can feel the ties holding me fast at my wrists and ankles, chafing my skin as I struggle. I wanted to get away, JoAnn. I really did! I just wasn’t strong enough. And the men were so big and scary; I knew they would hurt me if I didn’t do everything they said.”

I look up, my eyes pleading through the tears, needing her to know I had done my very best to make it stop.

“I know you tried, Mary Anne. I know,” she murmurs soothingly. “I believe you.”

Crying, I keep pushing through the memory. “I hate that line of men waiting, gawking and jeering until they have their turn with me!” Before they ever laid a hand on me, they had already violated me. I could see in their faces they were creating in their minds images of exactly how they were going to get their money’s worth as they waited to add their money to a growing pile on the small, rickety table at the front of the line.

“And I hate that pile of money! Is that all I was worth, a stack of bills?” Actually, I wasn’t even worth that much. I wasn’t the one they were paying. “How could anyone think he had the right to use me to make money like that? I feel like a piece of worthless, disgusting filth.”

I still don’t have clear visual memories of everything that happened to me, but my body remembers enough to know what those men were paying for. I also have some memory of their voices—no distinct words, rather their mocking tone of laughter telling me exactly what they thought of me. I heard lust, but that isn’t what has echoed through my soul throughout the years, framing how I think about myself. It isn’t their lust that has done the most damage, but their contempt.

“I hate their voices, and I hate these feelings in my body!” One by one the men kept coming to me, stealing pleasures from a body too young to know how to give them.

“JoAnn, there’s something I’ve never understood. What did they get out of it? I was just a scrawny girl, years away from even starting to develop curves. What did I have that grown men would desire?”

“They wanted your innocence, Mary Anne.”

innocence (1)

“I wanted to die. It felt like it would never end. When it gets too much, everything just goes black, but it feels like it never ends. It will never really be over. It’s too much.”

“I know this is hard, Mary Anne. You are doing great. I’m proud of you, Honey. You are being so brave. Don’t forget to breathe. Okay, this time, instead of letting everything go black, can you try to stay present in the memory and let Jesus help you in it? Can you see him?”

“Yes, he’s standing on the other side of the wall.”

“Can you invite Jesus to come inside and be with you there, or even take you away from it all?”

“No! I don’t want him to see me there—not like that. Please, I don’t want Jesus to see me like that.”

“That’s all right. Can you just tell Jesus what you’re feeling, what you’re afraid of?”

I nod and turn back to Jesus. I silently communicate with him. “Jesus, I am too ashamed to have you come near me. I’m terrified at the thought of seeing shock or disgust on your face if you look at me. I’m scared, Jesus, I don’t think I can do this.”

Immediately, the scene in my mind shifts, but I am so stunned by what I see that it takes me a minute to start describing it.

“Jesus is here in the shed with me, JoAnn. He is right next to me.” I stop, take a breath and then haltingly go on. “He’s on the cross. My view of him is from the back, but I can tell… he’s naked, too. And because of the nails, he can’t pull in his arms or legs to cover himself, either. He’s spread out for everyone to gawk at his nakedness—just like me—and those men are taunting him now, instead of me.” Jesus’ hand takes hold of mine and somehow his suffering becomes a refuge from all that is happening to me in that room. Each sharp pain in my body is swallowed up by the pounding of a nail into Jesus’ flesh. He matches my gasps for breath. I see the crown of thorns piercing all around his head and the blood pouring down his face and arms and feet, mingling with his sweat. Jesus is more of a sticky mess than I am. All of the shame I feel flows out from me and into him. I don’t feel it anymore. It’s completely gone. I guess it makes sense… I mean, how can I feel ashamed when Jesus is right there taking it all with me? It’s incomprehensible to me, but I just feel totally clean. And then suddenly, I’m standing free, clothed in a pretty yellow dress. I look up at Jesus, and it hurts to see him taking all of this for me. I ask him, ‘Is it okay for me to let you do this for me?’”

“It’s more than okay, Mary Anne. It’s my joy to do this for you. You are my joy.”


That’s when the grief hits, and I start crying really hard. JoAnn urges me, “Just let it go. Let it all out.” And, finally, I can. Before, I didn’t think I deserved to cry. Why grieve over garbage being treated like garbage? But as I cry, I can feel all the pain being released from my heart and pouring into his heart. As his heart breaks, mine is healed.

After a while, as my tears slow and I start to calm down, I notice something else in the picture. “JoAnn, next to the stack of bills, I see a pile of silver coins—the ones he was sold for.”

“Ask Jesus if he thinks that pile of coins represents his worth.”

“He says, ‘No, it doesn’t. But I felt the sting of it, just as you did.’”

“I feel this incredible with-ness with Jesus. I don’t feel alone. Jesus is with me, and he understands everything I experienced. And what’s really amazing, Jesus tells me that not many people truly understand what he experienced, but that I share some of it with him in a special way. He wasn’t just being with me, but somehow, he was able to experience me being with him. It’s so amazing! It’s hard for me to believe that he would feel something like that toward me…JoAnn, if Jesus and I can understand each other so well, could Jesus help my friends understand about me, too?”

JoAnn wraps her arms around me, and I relax into her embrace. “Mary Anne, think of the other times when you shared your stories of abuse with your friends. Don’t you think you can trust them with this one, too?”

I nod into her shoulder.

“I’m confident that most people you share this story with will understand, but there will be some who won’t.” She pulls back a little and lifts my chin up so I can see her face. “What you need to remember is that if Jesus isn’t ashamed to be your friend, then no one else has any reason, either.”


This is still a hard story to tell, whether to my closest friends or a crowd of people who are mostly strangers to me. Yet, each time I do, my story is received with honor, and I am embraced with compassion. Each time I heal a little more, and I feel a little bolder. I feel clean. I don’t have to be ashamed of my story, because Jesus was not ashamed to enter into it. As incredible as it is to me, part of the joy set before Jesus, that called him unflinchingly to suffering and death on the cross, was setting me free. Long after those men bound my body, shame continued to hold me captive, but Jesus has freed my heart, my spirit, and my voice. The joy set before me in facing my fear of telling my story is seeing many more people like me become free, too.

Dear Fellow Survivor of Sexual Abuse and Trafficking,

“Mommy! Mommy!…I wanna go home!…“No! Please, No!” These were the cries of a little girl that no one neither heard nor cared to hear. I was that little girl.

What about you? Were your screams loud enough to shake the walls, yet mocked as you were physically overpowered? Were you too paralyzed by fear to cry out or even to make a sound? Was the seduction of your young heart so subtle and your need for love and affection so desperate that the idea of saying no never even occurred to you?

Our bodies, our minds, our hearts – whatever sacred parts of ourselves were pinned down by our abusers, it makes no difference. Whether we were imprisoned in brothels, our own bedrooms, or simply our paralyzed wills, whether they secured their pleasures and our silences with money, attention, or threats, the same predatory evil was at work. However they “paid”, they were thieves, ruthlessly stealing our innocence, our trust, our joy, and our voices. I imagine that we all hold a silent scream within us. Silent, but not unheard.

Surely he took up our infirmities

and carried our sorrows,…

He was oppressed and afflicted,

yet he did not open his mouth;

he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,

and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,

so he did not open his mouth.

Isaiah 53:4, 7 (NIV)

We were powerless to defend ourselves, but Jesus, the one who holds all the power in the universe, chose to become powerless in order to enter into our world of silent screams. Jesus took them into himself in his death on the cross so that he could resurrect not only our lives, but our voices as well.

The good news of the gospel is that there is not a single cry that Jesus hasn’t heard and taken to heart. There is not a single cry that will remain silent forever. While Jesus came to the earth the first time as a silent lamb, he will return as a roaring lion.

Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice,

to the rumbling that comes from his mouth.

He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven

and sends it to the ends of the earth.

After that comes the sound of his roar;

he thunders with his majestic voice.

When his voice resounds,

he holds nothing back.

God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways;

he does great things beyond our understanding.

Job 37:2-5 (NIV)

If you listen, you can already hear the growing rumble in his throat. It is heaven’s outrage at every act of violence and violation of one of God’s precious children.

It is also Jesus’ invitation to join him in that rumble – one voice, one story at a time. When we break our silence and begin telling our stories, we begin to find our voices, and the world begins to hear. As victims of sexual abuse and trafficking, we needed someone to hear our cries. We needed to be rescued and to be healed.

Now as survivors, we have a story the world needs us to tell. God is calling us to add our stories to his story. Not just our stories of abuse and trafficking, but more so our stories of how God has met us in those experiences and given us his power to triumph over them. We have a unique opportunity to give God glory and magnify his name.

A day of judgment is coming when we will look in Jesus’ face and see in his perfect goodness and perfect anger the vindication we so desperately desire. On that day, Jesus will call forth all of our cries and transform them into a magnificent, holy roar. Heaven and earth will shake with our collective outrage and then joy, as we shake off every last vestige of fear, abandonment, betrayal, and violation still clinging to our souls.

We have been silent long enough. It’s time for us to roar.


Written by Mary Anne Q. Do not reproduce without permission. Contact Mary Anne for any questions pertaining to her writing:

The Prostituted Asian Massage Parlors: Don’t look, don’t listen, don’t tell.

She’s just a girl.

Not too different from you and I.

Or your daughter, or your mother, or your sister, or your niece, or your granddaughter.

Well, there are slight differences, but nothing so significant that separates her humanness from that of our own women.

For starters, she’s from China. And some places in China, and many people in China, do not have the same access to opportunity that we have in America. The same money, jobs, loans, protection, freedom. It’s just not the same, and we have to start there because we often judge this girl as if she made her decisions having had our own lives and opportunities. She didn’t. She had a different life.

It’s not that one life is better than another. It’s simply different.

She has a family, perhaps a job, often education, dreams, talents, aspirations, and, above all, dignity.

There may come a point of crisis, or need, or dream, to provide more for her family, or for herself — to earn more income, to have more opportunities and achievements. Not every economy has a “career path.” She goes only to work in a clothing factory from sunrise to sunset and walks away every month with maybe $200. Not enough to live on. And definitely not enough to live up to her aspirations — perhaps as a doctor, or accountant, or fashion designer.

When you live on the edge of survival you can’t afford the luxury of dreaming.

But she hears about a job, and it looks like a pretty good job. Doing hospitality work for an upscale restaurant or 5 star hotel. And the pay would start at $2000. $2000 a month! That’s 10 times what she makes how! Imagine if she did that for just 2 years — she could save up so much to pursue a real education and career path in the land of opportunity. Which, of course, is America.

The land of the free, the home of the brave.

So she makes the incredibly difficult and courageous decision to leave what’s familiar in hopes for a better future. She finishes the job search online, as we all do these days, deciding between job postings, applying to some, having phone interviews, video interviews, job offers, and then even learning that the future employer may offer to cover travel costs and even costs of a visa to get to America.

She leaves.

She arrives.

And what she thought was a decision to move into the free pursuit of happiness turns into a living nightmare.

She has just walked into the sophisticated network of international human trafficking.

When she arrives, her papers are taken, she is moved to certain spots and areas, often not knowing where she is. Her entry level job, which may have been high end domestic work, a restaurant manager, or hotel housekeeper, is actually now one of hundreds of Asian spas in Chicago.


And it’s no typical massage job. This one she finds she must perform sexual services as her job requirement.

What she ended up in was a front for prostitution.

But — but she’s only 19. She came here to grow and give and learn and excel.

This though — this is not what she came for. But now she’s lost and vulnerable — someone else is controlling her: her money, her security, her housing, her information, her everything. This may include physical beatings and rape as a way to “breaking her in” so that she knows who’s boss. Not enough customers coming in? Using her to create online porn is a solution. Gotta make money somehow off her. Resisting isn’t really an option, because her owner controls her money, food, and security.

Nobody would come looking for her if she went missing.

Of course she wants to escape — there’s no way America could really endorse this behavior. But there’s cameras everywhere in the spa, she can’t communicate herself or learn her rights because she is not given the chance to learn the language, she knows the police won’t help because illegal immigrants are not offered the same kind of protections and representation as citizens, and, quite frankly, no one knows and no one really cares about the immigrant prostitutes.

It’s the most overlooked square footage in our city. They’re poor, they’re foreign and they’re women.

She hopes that she can get out quickly, maybe just bide some time before getting enough money to move back to China. Her owner says she needs to work to, “pay of the debt you owe me from me bringing you here.”

But 1 day turns into a week, and 1 week into a month, and 1 month into a year.

And now it’s 14 years later. She’s 33.

“What do you want to do with your life? What’s your dreams?” I ask her this past Sunday while on outreach at her spa in my neighborhood.

She looked back at us with an empty stare.

“No dreams. There’s nothing I want anymore.”

We were all quiet as we let that admission settle into the air.

That was it. No hiding, no putting up a front to keep herself protected, protected from wanting something too much and not ever receiving it.

Her brokenness was real and we all felt the weight of it.

It all feels a little hopeless. An emotion a little too familiar, a little too acceptable.

I mean, she can’t speak English very well despite living here for 14 years, she hasn’t had a day off in a long while, and it looks like her desire is dried up.

But dried up flowers are pretty too.

They’re a little more fragile than full bloom flowers, but they’re not gone, and they’re definitely not useless.

I sit here wondering now if perhaps at some point Sonya* prayed to God, a God she doesn’t yet fully know, and asked for help. I wonder if one of her many desperate prayers was that he’d send some sort of relief and and freedom, giving her a chance to rekindle the fire of lost dreams.

I wonder if we just walked into an answered prayer.

I wonder if we just participated in a miracle, a 14 year-long dried, weary prayer.

I think 2 thoughts: first, that what an honor to be the carriers of light and hope, to be an answer by participating in others’ miracles.

And second, does not God also hear the prayers of his own children, of us, of me, and already has an action plan all set up for our help and deliverance and good? Do we not have our own miracles to walk into?

Though this story I piece-worked together isn’t solely Sonya’s, it’s a mix of a myriad of stories, articles and research told about immigrant trafficking and the Asian massage parlor facades. It’s such a complex, wholly difficult world to understand, mostly because there’s so much silence around it, from both those within and those of us without.

Though that conversation with her on Sunday may have been a difficult thing to hear, we were actually celebrating. Most conversations are superficial as it takes a long time to build trust and hear more of their story. Sonya in particular had been very distant and even at times hostile. But this time was different – she was open, kind, conversational, and allowed a deeper conversation than we’ve had with her previously.

We don’t always pray in person with the women, but this time we felt led and she welcomed us to pray with her in a circle, arms around each other. It was very simple, but so powerful. Her countenance was so different this time and she couldn’t stop thanking us and expressing gratitude. We were seriously ecstatic with praise for this breakthrough!

And her story is just one of thousands of those quiet and hidden Asian immigrants among us.

Be aware that these massage parlors exist not just in the Chicago city proper, or in any major city in America. Actually, of all the teams in Chicagoland, Napperville, a somewhat wealthy west suburb, has some of the most notorious parlors. Our teams are met by managers and bouncers at the doors who won’t even let them speak to the women. There are cameras outside the building as well as inside. Often the women work and live inside that building, never allowed to leave, and may not even know what state they’re in. To make sure they aren’t tracked, owners will move girls from parlor to parlor which are a part of a larger network of international trafficking and crime. They are very dark places.

However, that doesn’t deter New Name. We are a group of loved ones telling these women that they are loved, seen and heard. We don’t know their stories, how they got to that spa, and all the obstacles they have faced. But we know that if we are loved and forgiven, we have every right and place in the world to offer that to them.

New name home page

We have teams all over the Chicagoland, from Wheaton to North Shore to all the way in the city, and we go into the spas bearing gifts and offering friendship.

We also live and breathe prayer. If there isn’t prayer, nothing happens. There is no hope, protection, or relief without God’s intervention.

Yes, not all massage parlors and Asian spas are fronts of prostitution. But we target our spas based off of online research where Johns (those who purchase sex) will review their experience with the businesses and the women. The reviews are explicit and include checklists of their masseuse’s body and how they would rate their performance. Johns use these reviews to decide the best places to go with the kind of woman they want for the right price.

But we believe there is hope and freedom in this industry, for the survivors, the Johns, and the traffickers. All are offered a place to the table of Jesus.

Here’s what we don’t do: We are not rescuers. We believe that each person has an infinite amount of dignity, worth, and value. They are intelligent, capable, smart, and have had to learn how to survive in ways that many of us will never have to. It’s incredible. We have much to learn from them.

We have no agenda but to love.

New Name also reaches out to all women in the adult industry which includes women at strip clubs and prostitutes posting services online. We do call centers and follow-up in order to help each individual take the next step in life.

Often, when a women decides that she wants out, there is an immediate need for a safe place before moving her into a longterm aftercare facility. Often these are trafficked victims. Since safety is the first priority, we have created an initiative called the Safer Place.

Our Safer Place Initiative quickly transitions a woman out of the adult industry to a safe place until we are able to get her to a long-term care or healing facility. We started the Safer Place because we were meeting with women who were interested in getting out but were discouraged by their boyfriend, pimp or even family members from going into a restorative program. We’ve found that when we take a woman a significant distance away from where she’s been working, she is able to have the separation she needs from her environment and can take some deep breaths, relax and process her decisions.

So get this: It’s my birthday today and I unashamedly admit my exceeding jubilance for birthday food (hot fudge brownie sundae, anyone?), as well as celebrating with good friends with some serious swing dancing tonight. And I may have a Stitch Fix box waiting for me downstairs — gah, happy birthday to ME!

But what would be the most incredible gift is to see our new Safer Place be completely prepared for the welcome of our first woman. One of our team leaders has renovated her and her family’s home to offer our first Safer Place.

Check out the Amazon wish list where there’s a list of items that are still needed to furnish the home. Could you participate in another woman’s answer to prayer, participating in her miracle?

It’s beyond totally worth it.

*Sonya is her pseudonym 

10 ways you may not realize how your life is affecting sex trafficking

Exactly 5 years ago I began down a path of connecting with people who I thought were vastly different from me. This began with those who were in drug addiction, then those who were homeless, then those in prostitution, then those in domestic violence, and eventually those in human trafficking.

You know what happened as I met them?

It stopped being “them.”

And it became “us.”

First, I found that many of my own hurts and wounds were very emotionally similar to those in the “broken” culture. Hey guess what? I’m just as broken! And I think we’re all there– we just have various ways of coping or covering shame.

Second, the economics of my life choices became increasingly obvious. You see, I realized, as in Economics class, that making one choice is a choice for something and a choice against something else. All of our choices and actions and voices and thoughts affect those around us. We affect our culture by the choices we make and don’t make.

And I’ve come to find some very clear ways we contribute to sex trafficking around us, though normally unknowingly. However, ignorance is not bliss. So here are some ways you may not realize that you are contributing to sex trafficking around you.


1. Calling prostitutes “sluts” and “whores.”

This unfortunate name-calling is perpetuated not just in our culture’s movies and music, but also in passing comments from average people and saintly church-goers. It’s a way of removing someone else’s lifestyle from our own connection so that we aren’t also soiled.

This practice also gives us permission to look at a woman who has on provocative clothing as someone we have permission to denigrate and look down on. “She dresses like a slut,” or “What a whore” are phrases that stiff-arm women far away from ourselves and “normal” people, and then categorizes them as simply sex objects who want to express their physical power.

Which, my friend, is far from the truth.

And it totally overlooks the reality that in the sex industry there is often very little choice involved, which brings us to the next point.

2. Believing that those in the sex industry are there by choice.

Prostitution is simply the exploitation of vulnerability. Statistics show that up to 95% of those in the sex industry have experienced sexual abuse in their past. Why do you think the correlation? Think about it— growing up, these children never understood the right they had to their own body. Then, when they grew up, all of a sudden someone offers money for what others have taken freely. It was a natural progression, but only because exploitation has been their normal expectation.

Another aspect of this lack of choice is the reality that most women chose this work because they didn’t have any other options for income and were in extreme circumstances. Funny how that works– they chose sex work because they didn’t have a choice.

This is a hard one to explain, because many of us do not understand what it means to be totally and wholly lost and without hope, to deal with not just having no way of taking care of yourself, but also dealing with emotional trauma and deep soul wounds. It must take a lot of courage to decide to perform sex acts with someone you don’t know in order to pay the bills and put food on the table.

I’ve talked to strippers, high-end escorts, street prostitutes, and massage parlor escorts, and every one of them said they were there for the money because they didn’t have another way to bring in a real income. And once they were in long enough, it was an endless cycle and nearly impossible to get out.

3. Having a limited, “slavery” view of human trafficking.

Yes, trafficking is a form of modern day slavery. But it’s slavery with a different face.

Slavery simple means forced against their own will. And many in prostitution are forced and exploited outside of their will.

But they are not in physically chains. Yet you can be certain to know that the emotional bondage is very real and controlling.

I had a friend who came to live with me for a while who was escaping her boyfriend who had literally beaten her with hangers, burned cigarette butts into her skin, stabbed her multiple times, and she still defended him and blamed it all on herself. You see, the chains we need to be aware of are the chains of mind control, brainwashing and manipulation.

And those kind of chains are the most frightening and most damaging.

4. Not being aware of children.

It’s hard to hear, but children are being used as sex objects. In America. In our cities. In our neighborhoods. On our watch.

It’s easy to overlook kids as just tiny humans and not take their non-verbal and verbal cues seriously.

But here’s the reality: the U.S.Department of Justice states that the average age of entry into prostitution is 12-14 years old.

And that’s trafficking. And it’s happening to at-risk children as well as not-at-risk children everywhere. Be sensitive to the children around you, especially ones that may be “acting out.” It may be for a reason.

5. Watching “free” porn.

It’s a sad fallacy that just because you don’t pay for porn, then of course you’re not actually supporting the industry.

The reality?

Somebody pays, and it’s typically the girl behind the camera.

You see, the fact that trafficking exists means that there is more demand than there is supply. The more clicks, the more proof to the leaders and marketers of the sex industry that the demand is still there. And they will do whatever it takes to supply that demand.

6. Thinking, “Well, she likes it.”

We may think that a prostitute or porn actress really loves her job.

Think logically about this for a moment: Why would she say she doesn’t like it (to you or anyone else)? If she doesn’t feel safe around you, if she doesn’t trust you, if she knows she’ll get beaten if she doesn’t perform or bring in enough customers, then of course she’s going to tell you whatever you want to hear. Of course she’s going to act like this is the best life ever. Because she knows to be honest would mean losing her income, or losing her health, or coming to grips with her hurt and trauma beneath the surface.

Which brings me to the next point…

7. Being brutally insensitive to trauma.

Here’s the thing about trauma— when you try to explain your feelings and hurt and then someone blames you for it or gives a pat, sympathetic answer, it’s a slap in the face and a trigger to run and not trust anyone ever again with those feelings.

Those that have experienced varying versions of trauma (whether verbal, physical, sexual, emotional, etc…) are in desperate need for help and sometimes that plea for help may come out in odd ways or with unexpected reactions.

But often what they need most is for someone to empathize and just be with them in the moment.

We continue to perpetrate survivors of trauma by not listening and by walking away in their deepest hour of need.

8. Expecting survivors of trafficking to be OK with simply attending a community group and reading their Bible every day.

Survivors need therapy. Though many won’t say that or admit to it (who wants to admit they have serious issues? Yeah, me too), they’ve been through mental warfare and need emotional intensive care. This is not church small group stuff. This means professionals and years of work and tender care.

9. Taking people at face value and assuming you know their story.

You may be surprised to realize how many prostitutes, strip club dancers, and abuse survivors there is living inside your inner circle. We all have hidden lives, do we not? And often by not being vulnerable ourselves, we place this plastic film over our lives that looks like strength but smells like shame. It keeps us protected, but also keeps others at bay.

If we’re not vulnerable about our pain, then why would anyone else share with you about their hurts? or their struggle with sex? or their shame of prostituting?

10. Trying to rescue those who are being trafficked.

This is the one I’m the most guilty of (though believe me, I have been guilty of all of the above at one point or another). It’s easy to see this huge problem and decide to go on saving campaigns and rescue the victims from destruction.

The reality? This is just another power play.

It’s yet another way that these women are experiencing control from yet another person or group.

It’s deciding, “Hey, what’s happening to you is bad, so here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to make a decision for you that is obviously the best choice for your life. I know this is best. We’re going to do this.”

That friend I mentioned earlier? I was incredibly overwhelmed with feeling the responsibility to save her from this terrible man and terrible mental state. And it was seriously stuff.

But all I did was push her farther away, because then she was the victim and not the friend.

I’ve had a change of mindset. As Bob Goff says, “I used to want to save people. Now I just want to be with them.”

I used to want to fix people

So how can you make a difference today?

First of all, think through your thoughts. How do you think about those in the sex industry?

Secondly, think about your choices. How are some of your seemingly small decisions contributing to human trafficking?

Lastly, support one of these anti-trafficking organizations today. It’s Giving Tuesday and after days of shopping, make a real effort to give directly to help survivors of human trafficking.

Here are some organizations that I have personally worked with and/or volunteered with in Chicago. They are all doing amazing work in our city.


What I love about CAASE is their focus on Ending Demand. They have an educator who goes into local high schools and middle schools to talk with boys about the realities of the sex industry and the fallacies they are seeing and hearing around them.

They also take the lead with legal advocacy in Chicago and Illinois. At the end of the day, if the laws don’t change, then longterm change is not possible.

New Name

Through New Name I have been able to do outreach in massage parlors in my neighborhood and come to a better understanding of international sex and labor trafficking. Massage parlors are very difficult as there is a huge language and cultural barrier. But New Name has a fantastic approach and view of these women and we are there to love and support and help however needed.

If you want to donate to New Name, please mail a check to PO Box 632, Glen Ellyn, IL 60137.

The Dream Center 

Last year I spent a lot of time with the Dream Center and was able to get involved with a street prostitution outreach. This was my first time “on the streets” and I was very humbled by my lack of understanding and lack of sensitivity. I found so much of this life is about survival and control. The women and men who work in the Dream Center are truly some of the most courageous people I know.

They have housing and after-care for girls who have been trafficked and women who have been in the sex industry and/or drug addiction. This is a place absolutely over-flowing with love and care.

So if this article has been helpful in your understanding at all about human trafficking, please share. Also, please feel free to email me or comment with questions or additional insights. This isn’t about pushing my opinions; I want this to be all about starting conversations.

So let’s have conversations that love and help people.